Art and Letters Club
As no one in this room will be surprised to hear, the year 2000 national campaign of the Liberal Party of Canada was conceived in the Ninth Circle of Hell.
Those of you familiar with Hell (and I suspect that there are more than a few of you in this regard) will know that the Ninth Circle of Hell is where complex frauds and betrayals are concocted by assorted demons.
Dante divided Hell into two halves, Upper and Lower. In his Inferno, Dante wrote about Lower Hell being the home of heresy and violence. Upper Hell was the favoured hangout of avarice, sloth and that kind of thing. Among us Liberals, we don’t make these sorts of distinctions.
To us, all of Hell is home. Throw a rug down here, hang a picture of Pierre Trudeau over there, and we’ll move right in. Pop an HRDC grant in the mailbox, and we’ll practically never leave.
So there we were in Hell one day, being sinful, boastful, wasteful, arrogant Liberals, when we got word from the Anti-Christ that Lucifer was looking for us. Off we went on the fiery pathways to the lower reaches of Hell. Along the way, we took a few minutes to torment assorted conservatives. The funny thing about conservatives – we Liberal demons have found – is that they seem to like being tortured in Hell. Why is this so?
All true conservatives, John Diefenbaker explained to me one day, are very suspicious of happiness and contentment. They think it is a trick.
Relaxing with a volume of resolutions from the latest meeting of the Liberal International, Old Beelzebub was in reflective mood. “Listen, guys,” he said to us. “Arising in the West is a new angel, a new possible Messiah for the moneyed class. Do not be fooled by his complete inability to hold a steady job, or his perfectly awful command of the French language. Do not be tricked by his desire to be photographed doing athletic endeavours most often associated with show-offy teenagers. He is The Stockwell Child, and I want you to go and beat the living shit out of him.”
So off we went: the horsemen of the Apocalypse; the Anti-Christ; plus Jane Stewart, to lay waste to the latest anointed one. Here is how we did it, in two easy steps. If I have time, I will also describe how we overcame one big liability, and how we made use of one big asset.
First step, which you can call Politics 101. If you don’t define your guy before your leadership convention, you can count on your good friends in the Liberal Party doing it for you. Politics abhors a vacuum. In the Spring of 2000, the good Treasurer from Alberta was a veritable Electrolux.
In my own case, I was somewhat familiar with Mr. Day already. Long before he came to this club to speak – long before he came to this very room, in fact, to try and seduce everyone (everyone but Demon Duffy and I) with his modulated tones, and his hair gel, and his much-documented penchant for rambling without notes – I knew a little bit about la famille Day.
As some of you may know, I have written a book or two about racist and anti-Semitic kooks. This one, for example, which you can pick up for less than $20, and which makes an excellent Christmas gift. Pick up two copies, because it is the gift that keeps on giving.
In the course of doing some Internet research one fine day, I came across a few letters written by Stockwell Day Senior to Douglas Christie, the delightful man who – according to the Law Society of Upper Canada – has “made common cause” with Hitler fans like James Keegstra, Ernst Zundel and so on.
In his little missives to Mr. Christie, Stock Senior unburdened himself of a few opinions. Such as that gays were “sodomites.” And that we should only admit immigrants who “look like us.” And that Canadian immigration offices resembled “the Harlem Globetrotters” basketball team. And that Mr. Christie was his “captain.” That sort of thing. Does the proverbial apple fall far from the proverbial tree, I asked myself? Let us find out!
A few more minutes on the Internet revealed that Stock Junior, like his dear old Dad, had also spoken with great candour about all kinds of things. And all while a Member of the Alberta Legislature or Cabinet.
I am sure you are now very familiar with all of these statements, because we did our best to make sure that you were. Mr. Day had said in 1992 that homosexuality was, quote unquote, “a mental disorder.” He had said, in 1995, that women should not be permitted abortions, even in the case of rape and incest, quote unquote. He had even gone out and purchased a .38 calibre revolver in 1994, as a publicity stunt to express his outrage over that devilish policy of gun control. In all, we were able to pop some 1,400 pithy Stock quotes into a fiendishly simple computerized database.
Mr. Day said repeatedly that there was nothing controversial about any of these statements. If I were Joe Clark, I would call him a liar.
I’m joking. No, I’m serious. No, I’m joking. No, I’m serious. Have I mentioned yet that all Albertans are red-necked, mouth-breathers?
Anyway. Focus groups were allegedly conducted with conservatives – not certifiable wackos, mind you, just garden-variety Ontario and urban conservatives – in a comfy meeting room in Hell one weekend. To no one’s surprise, we found that Mr. Day’s tax message was well received. Equally unsurprising was the fact that – when they learned about what he had to say about gays, guns and whatnot – Mr. Day’s little freedom train immediately started to acquire a lot of baggage. Even guys, who typically liked tax cuts the best, were reaching for the emergency stop.
The one thing we Liberals from Hell knew for sure was this: what we were finding out in our focus groups could not be very different from what our adversaries were finding out in their focus groups. What we could never figure out, and what hopefully someone will explain to me tonight, is why our opponents ignored what the research had to say about aspiring Prime Ministers with, shall we say, highly unconventional views.
As I mentioned earlier, all of this is Politics 101: define your opponent. In Mr. Day’s case, we wanted to paint picture that showed him to be a little bit kooky. Imagine our surprise when he volunteered to pose for this portrait – and that the picture turned out to be very realistic.
I’m joking. I’m serious. I’m joking.
Now, Step Two. The second step we Princelings of Darkness took, of course, was to manage the dialogue. This is a phrase used by Dick Morris, who will be speaking to the club in a few weeks’ time.
On law and order, for example, it did not matter that the Satanic, One World Government, CBC-worshipping Liberals had a few good points to make – for example, that gun control is a perfectly acceptable idea in most Western democracies, or that statistics show that overall crime rates have plummeted in the past twenty years. What mattered is this: when one properly manages the political dialogue, one does not talk about things – like law and order – that are potentially harmful to one’s cause. One changes the channel. Click.
Management of the economy, health care and the experience of the Liberal team were all good things to talk about, so we did. We did our best not to talk about things that were bad for us. Mr. Day, however, persisted in going on and on and on about things that were unhelpful to his cause – to the point, even, of repeatedly holding up his little hand-made sign in the English language debates, to protest that he had been misunderstood about health care. At that point, there was only one way we devilish Grits could have managed the dialogue better – and that would have been to make up the little sign ourselves, and demand that Mr. Day hold it up on TV.
Another important part of managing the political dialogue, I think, is not whining a lot. Mr. Day, we found, had a penchant for whining a lot.
Politics is a nasty, unpleasant, mean-spirited business, which is presumably why so many of us here tonight are drawn to it. Many of us are nasty, unpleasant and mean-spirited people. There weren’t enough editorial board jobs to go around at the Post, so politics would have to do as a substitute.
Mr. Day, having come from what has been properly likened to a one-party state, quickly distinguished himself as a youngster who could not take a punch without complaining about it to the school principal. In this way, he resembles Al Gore, but with a great deal less formal education.
On the day that Mr. Day forgot that Lake Erie is part of the Great Lakes, we devils in the Liberal Party learned something very valuable about his character. When confronted with his screamingly funny error, Mr. Day did not laugh at himself. He did not fess up. He did not grin and bear it and move on. No, instead, he promised to take an unnamed staff member behind the tool shed for having improperly briefed him – for having improperly briefed him about something any Third Grade student would have expected him to know already.
That, to us, was most interesting. That morning, perhaps one hundred campaign staffers remarked to me – as I trimmed my cloven hoofs – that they could never, ever, ever, ever imagine Jean Chretien doing something like that to a staff person. For that matter, I could not picture Mike Harris doing something like that, either.
So we continued to try and manage the political dialogue. And a thought occurred to us: we were dealing with a great, big, wet, bona fide fish, here. So we kept putting interesting things at the end of our fishing line – things like health care, or pensions, or abortion, or referenda. And Mr. Day, being a hungry little fish, could not resist taking the bait. He’d complain about all this, sure. He was being misconstrued, and misquoted, and misunderstood, he whined, by the worldwide Liberal conspiracy. It was unfair. It was mean.
Call off your attack dogs, Mr. Chretien, was one favourite headline – which we blew up and posted on the war room wall.
To the very end, however, Mr. Day couldn’t resist blathering on and on about his own negatives. And his negatives, of course, were our positives. That, as Beelzebub likes to say, is how you get your ass kicked on Election Day. Mr. Day helped us get a bigger share of the popular vote than we did in 1997. That isn’t easy to do, but he did it.
Do I have time to talk about two other things, quickly?
Now, not everything was as easy as this two-step process suggests. We had one great big liability, and we had one great big asset. The liability was this: we nasty, conniving, horrid Liberal demons were hated by the news media. Now, I know all political parties believe that, but in our case, it was true.
Not just that they simply disliked us. No, they really, really, really hated us, to reverse that quaint phrase by Sally Fields. There were a variety of reasons for this, all of which are too boring to recount here.
Suffice to say that being hated by the media is not the end of the world if (a) you remember that most of the public hates the media right back and (b) you have a strategy for dealing with it.
Our strategy was this: acknowledge reality. Acknowledge that we are not media favourites, and say that we can expect the chattering classes and the elites on Bay Street to continue to take shots at us. Suggest to voters that there is a motive behind all of those negative, nasty, nattering every morning. There is a reason for it. Hilary called it, quote, “a vast right-wing conspiracy.” We called it, quote, Conrad Black.
This part of the earned media strategy worked, I think, because Joe and Jane Frontporch are not stupid. They suspected that Stock had a hidden agenda – but they know that the media has a hidden agenda, all the time. And they’ll take Main Street over Bay Street, ten times out of ten.
So the Conrad Black part of our media strategy was simple. From the moment he spoke at this club, in this very room, more than two years ago, it was evident that the National Post would hopping in the sack with the Reform Party. To me, that is fine. Mr. Black owned the newspaper, so he could do whatever the Heck he wanted with it.
And I like many of the people at the Post. I may even like some of you, depending upon on how much you applaud me at the end. But this is war, and in a war, you have to take advantage of a gift when it is handed to you.
The most wonderful gift of all came from Mister Black himself. In November 1999, Mr. Black was reported to have said to the Times of London that, by the time he got through with the Prime Minister, there wouldn’t be enough left “to squeeze through an eye dropper.” Quote unquote.
Oh, how we loved that quote! Some days, when feeling blue, we would take that clipping and rub it all over our chests. (There was only one other thing we loved as much – and that was a stellar report on CBC Television, by Senator Paul Hunter, about Mr. Day’s belief that dinosaurs and humans co-existed – which prompted me to remark on Canada AM, in a moment of weakness, that the Flintstones was not a documentary.)
Mr. Black’s quote gave voters – in just a few, short words – a compelling explanation for all of the bad press we Hellish Liberals had been receiving. It explained the loving treatment the Reform Alliance had been getting from Southam. It was a motive that we could point to, again and again. And we did. Motives are important in elections, just like in murder mysteries, which they closely resemble.
That was our liability: the media. Our biggest asset, as much as you will protest, was Jean Chretien. I know, I know, I know: you think he is not very smart, and he talks funny, and he is dï¿½lassï¿½ But let me let you in on a secret. Every time a columnist writes that he is not very smart, and that he talks funny, and that he is dï¿½lassï¿½ – like that vile, horrid woman at the Globe who rides a broom to work – my guy picks up another 10,000 votes.
Canadians don’t like snobs. In the immortal phrasing of Holden Caulfield, they don’t like phonies, either. Here was our secret: public opinion on Mr. Chretien has always been very clear – after thirty years in public life. Thirty years! We were pretty sure that those 30 years of goodwill could not be undone by Andrew McIntosh in thirty days.
Anyway. As I made my way back to Hell with my fellow demon Grits, this is what I concluded about election 2000: sure, there were issues that counted with some voters. Health care, taxes, whatever.
But, mostly, what counts most with voters is whether they like your guy or not. Bill Clinton, Mel Lastman, Mike Harris and Jean Chretien may have their flaws, but people like them. Stockwell Day, they don’t. It’s that simple.
A few months ago, at another meeting of this club, I told Ezra Levant that Mr. Day was the candidate we Liberal devils wanted the most to lead the Reform Alliance. Ezra, being understandably suspicious of every word that comes out of my mouth, probably thought this was a bit of reverse spin.
A few months later, I would swear on my soul – if I had one, that is – that Stockwell Day is the leader we Grits still want you to keep. Only Heaven knows whether – this time – you will listen!