I have written before about Arthur Finklestein, the Republican pollster who worked with Stephen Harper and the National Citizens Coalition.
I was a little shocked when I first learned of this, because Finklestein was pretty high profile. Not a public icon like Karl Rove or to a lesser degree, Frank Luntz. Finklestein was more like Guy Giorno, preferring to operate in the shadows.
He handled the campaigns of controversial figures like Jesse Helms and Alfonse D'Amato, but his client list also included Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
He was no lightweight.
I'm currently reading Loyal to the Corp: Stephen Harper Me and the NCC, by Harper's former VP at the National Citizens Coalition, Gerrry Nicholls. Nicholls reveals the fact that Finklestein was employed by the NCC for 14 years, taking Harper under his (right) wing, and teaching him everything he knew. And he knew plenty.
Not about how to be a good leader, but how to demolish your political opponents.
Finklestein was king of the petty attack ad. The pettier the better, and Stephen Harper was a very good student.
The Legacy of Arthur Finklestein
In Lawrence Martin's book Harperland, he discusses Harper's visceral hatred for "L"iberals, though it's more of a visceral hatred for anything "l"iberal. It's almost an obsession.
In the United States Finklestein is credited with helping to make "liberal" a dirty word throughout the 1980s and 1990s. He did this by associating the word with anything negative.
"That's liberal. That's Jack Reed. That's wrong. Call liberal Jack Reed and tell him his record on welfare is just too liberal for you."
Three times: liberal = "wrong" liberal = Jack Reed "too" liberal. The message is pretty clear.
But this one backfired:
"Paul Wellstone. Embarrassingly liberal. Decades out of touch."
He played it so often that a grassroots organization was formed to counter the ignorance and Wellstone won. Besides, it was 1990, after almost a decade of "out of touch" Reagan, so it failed to resonate.
We can do the same here, and in fact, I think the Conservative attack ads are beginning to wear on everyone. Wellstone's campaign is actually a good example of how to beat the right-wing nonsense. The senator from Minnesota died in a plane crash in 2002, along with his wife and daughter, but a group has been formed in his name:
Wellstone Action trains progressive citizens and potential candidates for public office, on how to "succeed in winning elections, enacting legislation, and passing ballot initiatives". I'm hoping we can mobilize as a progressive force this election, and turn this country around.
We saw how easy it was to recruit 225,000 Canadians, who opposed Stephen Harper's last self-serving prorogation, and more recently, 30 groups got together to oppose the "hush money" paid to Harper's "not so much an ethics czar as a sweeper under of rugs", who buried 50 allegations of fraud and misconduct against his government.
Pundits and pollsters are suggesting that the Conservative attack ads are working, citing recent poll results. But Harris-Decima chairman, Allan Gregg recently warned Canadians not to take too much stock in polls these days, admitting that "telephone surveys have fallen to 15 per cent -- partly because more people use cells, have call screening or just hang up."
The results are only based on a 15% success rate. And on-line polls represent the opinions of those who seeks out those polls, and hardly an accurate reading of the pulse of the nation.
Last month, we were on the brink of a Conservative majority: three separate polls said as much. Those attack ads on Ignatieff were hurting the Liberals. The fact that much of the Conservative surge was on the Prairies, where they already hold most of seats, was downplayed.We just have to try and beat the right-wing at their own games. Not by making silly attack ads, but by reminding people of just how ridiculous they really are.
... Then there's highly imperfect reporting. Dutiful news stories will include the usual warnings in the final paragraph: this poll is reliable 19 times out of 20, with a margin of error of whatever. But television hosts, pundits, columnists (guilty) often ignore this excitement-killing nuance. One recent poll had the Tories moving from 38.1 per cent to 39.7 per cent and was widely reported as a "rise" in Tory support. But the fine print reports a margin of error of 3.1 per cent: in other words, the "gain" was statistically meaningless.
"Michael Ignaieff didn't come back for you". What is that supposed to mean?
I bought some voice distortion software and created an attack ad as it might appear in 1867, when Conservative John MacDonald (Sir John A.) was running against Liberal George Brown.
MacDonald had scoffed at Brown's prison reform, suggesting that conditions in the prison system were not that bad.
I thought it might go something like this.