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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Friday 15 November 2013

The Fog of Politics: Winning is Not a Virtue

Coyne is wrong (but in the most elegant prose possible).  Harshly divisive messaging is not the sole purview of the the Political Right in Canada.  It's practised by all Parties, in fact.  Whereas theoretically, there was a time where policy was the driving force behind any Party's aspirations, that hasn't been the case for as long as I've been engaged in politics.  

Instead, policy is merely one tool in the box - and not always the most effective one.  There's more risk of losing when you emphasize what you stand for; it's much safer to focus on tearing down your opponents, demoralizing their base and tying any and every scandal out there to the other guys, while simultaneously presenting as low (and opaque) a profile as possible to avoid return fire.  Voters are viewed as blocks that can be sold niche policy planks; you don't need to please everyone all the time, you just have to individually please enough "coalitions" to win power.  In this scenario it's numbers that come first, policy that comes second and belief possibly, but not inevitably, coming after.

That's pretty cynical, isn't it?  Democratic Politics is about presenting platforms, debating ideas and ensuring that the people has a government that generally represent the interests of the majority, after all - it's not like it's war.

     (from The War Room by Warren Kinsella)

The Democrats, led by James Carville - not by Bill Clinton.

Maybe that's splitting hairs.  Carville led the War Room, obviously - not the Party.  Right?

It's a tail wagging the dog thing.  When you take a look at any of the many scandals that have plagued Canadian politics of late - everything from the Senate Scandal to the 2012 byelection in Waterloo to the BC "ethnic outreach" - there's a common theme that emerges.  

These scandals weren't accidentally stumbled upon by naive or opportunistic politicians; they were carefully planned strategic plays designed by back-room operators with no elected skin in the game

More often than you'd think, even political leaders have become shadow puppets for behind-the-scenes strategists who are at least as interested in scoring wins and the militant pleasure of beating opponents as they are supporting individuals or ideologies that they believe in.  

Politicians will work hard to secure the best organizational, strategic, communications, new media and War Room talent they can for they know those people (and the money that pays for them and their work) are the ones who win elections.  The strongest leader with the most powerful vision would be lost without a solid team to raise them above the data smog that blankets modern society.

These partisan hawks have become the George Pattons of modern politics - itching for a fight and relishing combat. 

The business of governing that takes up time between battles provide opportunities to make money consulting, but what they live for are elections.  Remember the last time partisan campaigns took a back burner to the proper functioning of Parliament?  No?  You see what I've getting at.

Three pieces of advice I have received from back-room masters from across the political divide frame the reality nicely:

1) Our job was to disrupt the House.  If I could have thrown a crate of monkey into the Legislature, that would have been a win.  We want to stop them from accomplishing anything, so that when the election comes, they've got no wins to run on.

2) People don't care about politics, about Parliament, or about politicians.  They care about what matters to them individually, not collectively.  If you're not focused on the individual wins for them, you're wasting your time.

3) You don't have to know what you're talking about - you just need to sound confident.  You get challenged, you keep your message simple, your voice strong and ride it out, like a game of chicken.

These are the games being played right now in Toronto by backroom operators either supporting future Mayoralty candidates or trying to create candidates to serve as their entry fee.  

These are the same shenanigans that landed us with Rob Ford in the first place.  When John Tory decided not to toss his hat in the ring, organizers on the Political Right needed some horse to back.  Ford provided that horsepower.

Albert Einstein said that "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."  I'm inclined to agree, as are many.

Despite all the rhetoric about values, we have a political culture that considers winning the ultimate virtue.

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