Thursday, April 03, 2008

Deconstructing Kinsella

When he is not threatening to sue people, Warren Kinsella has been known to offer astute political commentary.

Just recently, in fact, he posted on his blog ten reasons why people should not count Liberal leader Stephan Dion out.

Here they are, with my commentary on his commentary in italics:

1. After many months of crappy headlines and no shortage of bad luck, the polls reveal that Dion's Liberals and Harper's Tories are still... tied, mostly. It's a fair question to ask: if all of Dion's critics are right, then why is Dion still competitive? Because voters - particularly female voters - still have a lot of a reluctance about penciling an "X" beside the Conservative candidates' name. In politics, it's always good to be underestimated by your opponent. The polls say [the Tory] team is underestimating Dion. Big time.

Kinsella is right here. The polls do show the Tories and Liberals are neck and neck. But this says more about Prime Minister Harper than it does about Dion. Harper can't put Dion away for one simple reason: He isn't being true to himself. Rather than offering Canadians a true conservative alternative to Dion, Harper is offering competent but wishy-washy government. That's not the way to inspire voters.

2. The Liberal Party of Canada is the most successful political machine in Western democracy. Its brand and its organizational strength are formidable. In a country that is still Liberally-inclined, it is always foolhardy to count the Grits out.

Can't argue with Kinsella on this point either. The Liberal brand is still strong and the party has deep roots. That's why if the Liberals do win the next election it will be despite Dion, not because of him.

3. Dion is no dummy. He knows the Tories want to run a campaign about "leadership" - they've been telegraphing that for months. So Dion need only do what Chrétien did in similar circumstances in 1993: step back a bit and emphasize plan and team. And he's got a Hell of team: Hall-Finlay, Rae, Dryden, Ignatieff, Kennedy, and so many others. It is a powerful front bench, one with a lot of name recognition. Can the Tories say the same thing?

Yes Rae, Dryden, Ignatieff and the others do represent a "powerful front bench." But the only reason they are standing behind Dion is so they can stick a knife in his back.

4. The Tories have a message deficit. They can't run an "outsider" campaign - they're the incumbents. They can't run a "scandal" campaign, thanks to Mr. Mulroney. So they will run a campaign about "leadership" - but leadership is an exceedingly woolly concept. Voters like meat and potatoes platforms (which is why Harper won in 2006, by the way). If I were Dion, I'd do a campaign on government services - making 'em better, and not just eliminating them, the way Tories always do. Mix in some environment, some fiscal federalism, and voilà!

American political consultant Dick Morris likes to say elections are narratives. And if the Tories can successfully make the next federal election a narrative about leadership they will win. Voters don't like wimps running their country; I don't care how many meat and potatoes they have in their platform.

5. The campaign matters; campaigns always matter. With the parties effectively tied, the Grits need only run a tough, disciplined, focused campaign. Unlike the pre-writ, the two main parties will have the same amount to spend, so the Tories have no particular advantage there. Campaigns, you see, are great big job interviews. Here’s the Grit interview pitch: “Hi, I’m [Stéphane, Martha, Michael, Bob, Gerard, whomever]. We’ve got a great team and a great plan – to protect the environment, to improve government services, and to get us through tough economic times. The other guys don’t have a team, and they don’t have a plan.”

Campaigns do matter. And that's good news for the Tories. Prime Minister Harper is a tough, smart, battle-tested leader who, all things being equal, should make mincemeat out of Dion on the campaign trail. Will anybody even understand Dion during the English language debates?

6. Mark my words: Jim Flaherty’s anti-Dalton McGuinty campaign will go down in the political history books as one of the dumbest, most self-destructive campaigns ever. It is hurting the Conservatives in Ontario. The worst came late last week when pipsqueak Tory MP Pierre Poilievre said: "All Dalton McGuinty has ever done on immigration is run a sponsorship-style slush fund that cost him his citizenship minister." That kind of rhetorical overkill is idiotic - coming, as it does, from a government that last year established a multi-million dollar sponsorship program of its own. Memo to Pierre: McGuinty just got re-elected with a bigger majority than the one he had when the election was called, sonny boy; he's popular and doing a great job. You, meanwhile, would get asked for I.D. at a gathering of those unfortunate enough to be your immediate family.

This seems to be more of a paid political announcement for McGuinty than it does an defense of Dion. I guess even Kinsella couldn't come up with a full ten reasons defending Dion.

7. Flaherty’s attacks on McGuinty may well result in Team McGuinty getting much more involved in the federal campaign than anyone had expected. Given that Mr. McGuinty is considered to have a pretty solid team behind him, that can’t possibly be good news for the federal Tories. Who are they going to rely on? John Tory? Uh-huh.

See above.

8. In Quebec, things aren’t so hot for les bleus, either. The Charest-Harper relationship is distinctly cooler, and the federal Tories’ ardour for Mario Dumont is only likely to make things worse. When Charest is getting very popular again, is that a good strategy? Um, no.

Dion seems to be in melt down mode in Quebec. And no matter how you spin it, that's bad news for the "most successful political machine in Western democracy."

9.The media remain distinctly less-than-friendly with the Harper folks. They may not love Stéphane Dion, but – during the campaign – you can expect to see them cuddling with him more than once, if only to get back at Harper’s PMO. It’ll be ugly, as love triangles always are. But Dion will benefit.

Wow the media might be against the Conservative candidate. That's never, ever happened in the history of the world! Come on. The media always hates the conservative candidate. They hated Reagan, they hated Thatcher, they hated Harris. Does that mean they lost? Um, no.

10. Stéphane Dion is a decent, hard-working guy. Canada is full of decent, hard-working guys and gals. The more they get to know him, the more they will like him. Just watch.

Whenever a political spin doctor says the more people get to know their candidate the more they will like him, it's a sure sign the guy is a loser.

Overall, you got to give Kinsella credit for standing up for his guy. But trying to depict Dion as a viable leader is like trying to sell Eliot Spitzer as "Husband of the Year."


Anonymous said...

Excellent commentary, Gerry.

I think Harper's biggest challenge is his personality (or lack thereof), in that, he has difficulty selling it. I think this is a huge reason why he has resorted to selling out the right for a chance to connect to voters with liberal-lite policies.

If he had charisma, like say a Sarkosy, he would be able to pirouette through all the criticism from the press and moderates when he takes a tough stand on policy.

As it stands right now, people want change and they want to like Harper (and his original true conservative policies), unfortunately he just comes off as awkward, unknowable and someone who's trying to be something he's not. An extrovert liberal who likes hockey. He's neither of the two...and people know it.

DeeDee said...

There are lots of theories that one can look at, part of what makes it so interesting.

My theory is that polling companies give the organization that requested the poll whatever numbers they are looking for.

Every party commissions their own "internal" polls, that reveal the real numbers.

The Hill Times had a few interesting bits here:

In fact, one source told The Hill Times that the vast majority of the Liberal MPs, two out of three, are in favour of an early election, despite the advice they received in a recent caucus meeting from Liberal strategists. Most of them are very aware of the verdict coming from what they call "real polls," meaning those done internally, and, according to sources, the results that Conservatives, and Liberals are getting, are the same: Conservative majority.

Keep in mind that Kinsella has his own agenda, and that was initially to get rid of Paul Martin, and secondly to promote his Provincial Liberal buddies.

Now that Martin is gone he is free to slag Harper all he wants.

Anonymous said...

Dion is so done that this is not even worth commenting on...

Next article, please.

Joan Tintor said...

"The polls say [the Tory] team is underestimating Dion."

Wow, I didn't realize someone had conducted a poll on whether the public thinks Harper is underestimating Dion. I thought most polls were about (1) who people would vote for, or (2) who people think is the best leader. You know, arcane stuff like that.