Friday, November 21, 2008

No to 308

308 seems to be code for the Liberals should pander to the God, Gays and Gun crowd. Those who advocate such a policy seem to believe that such a strategy would allow the party to become more competitive in rural ridings and would not make the Liberals any the less effective in urban areas, particularly the big three. They are wrong on both accounts. The Liberals are not going to make up 50 point deficits in rural ridings West of Ontario. In Alberta, there was but one riding outside Calgary and Edmonton where the Liberals were within less then 60 points of a Conservative candidate! As for the cities, if the Liberals truly were the Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver plus the Maritimes party they would be much better shape. The truth is they were crushed in suburban Vancouver, lost seats in the 905 and won one but one seat off the Island of Montreal. I need not explain what happened in Quebec over the course of the last 5 years, but Vancouver needs some explaining. The Liberals saw their support in the Lower mainland ridings go up in 2006 even as they lost 6% nationally. The reason for the Liberal surge was that the Liberals were able to use the SSM issue to their advantage. Harper was deemed too socially conservative by many Vancouverites. All of that changed in 2008. Dion’s horrible English, his politically disastrous Green Shift, his lack of answer to Harper’s get tough on crime policies and his decision not to focus on any issue that might anger the social cons cost the Liberals dearly in Vancouver.

Given the economic downturn and a candidate who is fluent in English, the Liberals should be able roll back some of Conservative gains in suburban Vancouver. However, the next Liberal leader needs to put social issues back on the table if the Liberals and at the same time come up with an answer to Harper’s get tough on crime policies. As most of you know, I think a promise to legalize marijuana, would help the Liberals on both accounts. What is true of Vancouver is doubly true for Montreal. As the last election showed, the Conservatives Achilles heel in Quebec is that they are the wrong side of Quebecers when it comes to social issues. However, the Liberals will not be able to exploit that weakness unless they put social issues on the agenda. Needless to say, it would also work when it comes to Toronto.

Saddle Harper with the Sara Palins of the world, and the Liberals will win the cities, particularly the major cities. If they win the cities, they will win the country.

There is virtually no downside. So what if they loose Crowfoot by 80 points instead of 78 like they did last time.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

308 and the 50 State Plan; Some Comparisons

Comparing ridings to states is comparing apples to oranges. We should be talking about a 10 province strategy to be consistent.

There are three major parties in Canada and not two. Now, I know this does not mesh with some people’s belief that the left right spectrum drives voting patterns, but historically, Western rural voters swing between the NDP and the conservative party de jour. Moreover, there are slew of working class neighborhoods (e.g., Surrey North, Nanaimo Cowichan) were voters do the same.

The Democrats garnered 42% in the South in 2004. The Liberals garnered 16.5% in the West in 2008. Outside of Vancouver, Victoria, and the southern part of Winnipeg there is no support for the Liberals to speak of. It is one thing to target every region of the country when you are flush with cash and have huge base of support in absolute numbers to work with; it is quite another when you are fighting it out with the Green party for 4th place outside of the urban centers. The Greens beat the Liberals in 8 seats in BC, 10 in Alberta, 2 in Saskatchewan and 1 in Manitoba. I dare say there was not a county that Nader outpolled Kerry.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

308 Misguided

The Liberals are not going to win by trying to emulate the Democrats 50 strategy. It is one thing to try to build on a beach head that is anywhere from 30 to 45% of the vote and quite another to build something when you take 5 to 15% of the vote. Furthermore, there are also 3 major parties in Canada and not two. If support for the Conservatives goes down in rural Canada, the NDP gains. The reverse is also true.

Another misconception is that Obama won red states. It is more accurate to say that the changing face of Virginia, for example, has transformed the state from a Red state into a swing state. Obama won because the Republicans were crushed in ever major city outside of the South and youth showed up and voted for him by a margin of 2 to 1.

Liberals need to stop fooling themselves. A Liberal minority runs through suburban Vancouver, the 905, and Quebec. The Liberals, I am looking at you Mr. Ignatieff, will not win by appealing to gun owners in Wild Rose. The Liberals made inroads in Vancouver in 2006 because social issues mattered in that election and the Conservatives lost Quebec in 2008 because they were on the wrong side of Quebec when it came to social policy. The Liberals need to become more socially liberal; they do not need to pander to the pro bazooka crowd.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Obama and the Prospect of Legalizing Marijuana

The strongest argument against legalization of marijuana is that the Americans would fly off the rails. However, a Democratic president will soon be taking power and the Democratic base is open to such an idea. Moreover, Obama’s hands are tied in ways another leader hands would not be. The war and drugs, especially with regard to marijuana, has had a profound impact on the African American community in the States. If Obama was to toe the standard line in the face of Canada promising to end the war on drugs, he would be in a world of hurt politically. The African American community would not, of course, abandon him, but they would be unhappy and their unhappiness would have the potential to throw his whole presidency out of whack politically. His whole message of being the candidate of change would be called into question.
If the Liberals were to draw out how Obama’s message of change is not consistent with a hard line on marijuana, they should be able to tie Obama hands. As for any noise the Republicans might make, the more noise they make the better it would be for the Liberals. Let Republicans scream their opposition from the rooftops.

After all, Harper has been trying to create distance between himself and his social conservative base and the Bush administration ever since he became Prime Minster. If the Liberals promised to legalize marijuana, not only would Harper find himself in lock step Palin, John Walters, Fox news, the Washington Times, James Dobson, and the faculty at Bob Jones University and rest of the Republican apparatus that Canadians love to hate, but so too would Campaign for Life, Charles McVety and Real Women line up behind him. The Liberals could play the nationalist card and social conservative card all at once. The thought of being able to strike a fatal blow the US war on drugs will make Canadians a little giddy. If that was not enough, on the flip side of things, a legion of rock stars, intellectuals, movie stars, and high brow magazines, such as the New Yorker will line up behind the Liberals. John Stewart would eat such a proposal up. Canada would again be "cool".

Finally, such a promise would tear the Right apart. Libertarians and social conservatives would be at each other's throats and the National Post and great swaths of the Sun Media chain will side with the Liberals on this one! The National Post, Canada's flag ship of Canadian conservativism, has repeatedly called on marijuana to be legalized and has heaped scorn on the Conservative position.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Harper as Dr. Frankenstein

American “conservatism” today is largely a byproduct of Republican talking points and campaign tactics and strategy. Elitist liberals are effeminate snobs who are disconnected from reality; by contrast conservatives are real and unburdened by facts. It is talking points such as this that are conservatism’s first principles and not anything that Burke or even William F. Buckley wrote. In this sense the Republican party is literally writing dissent out of the script of what it means to be conservative. Something similar is happening to Canadian conservatism under Harper. Harper is redefining what it means to be a conservative and he is doing so by borrowing liberally from the Republican party. Indeed, it is hard to find a Conservative talking point or tactic that has not been borrowed from the Republicans. Republicans warned about “cutting and running”; Conservatives followed suite. The Republicans equated a government surplus as over-taxation; the Conservatives followed suite. The Republicans portrayed Kerry as effeminate elitist snob; the Conservatives did the same with Dion. The Republicans baited Michael Dukakis and kept him off message by telling out right lies about him; the Conservatives did the same with Dion and Dion’s Green Shift. The Bushies were all about message control; so is Harper.

This is not an entirely academic exercise. Rhetorical crap has consequences. Just look at Bush. Just look at what might have happened had McCain been elected and then died in office. Bush and Palin are not conservatives in any traditional sense. However their success within the Republican Party can only be accounted for by saying that each is an outgrowth of Republican rhetorical crap. Bush and Palin’s only redeeming features are that they fit the stereotype. Bush and Palin are not the authors of the Republicans decline. The Republican Party has played Frankenstein and Bush and Palin are their monsters. Harper also fancies himself a Dr. Frankenstein. The willingness of Conservatives to stomp on informed opinion and validate idiocy has the potential to cause Canada great harm.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Liberals need to be more than Stephen Harper on Prozac

Stephen Harper once said that Alliance party needed to be more than “Paul Martin in a hurry”. The Liberal party needs to realize that it needs to be more than Stephen Harper on Prozac and that is all it has been for a very long time. Despite all the talk in the media about Dion having moved the party to the left, the central plank in the Liberal platform was reducing income taxes and replacing it with a regressive tax. The Federal Liberal platform hardly differs at all from the one Gordon Campbell will be running on in May! Now granted the makings of “universal” daycare plan was in place when Martin lost in 2006, but in terms of implementation since 1993 the Liberals have only cut taxes and social spending. They have not implemented a major entitlement program since the 1960s. What has confused people is that the Liberals have failed miserably when it comes to standing up to “special interests”. Whether it be the Kelowna Accord, the Atlantic Accord, asymmetrical federalism, and Liberal party affirmative action, the Liberals have come to resemble at best a new social movement and provincial clearing house and at worst their servant.

The belief that Liberal party have moved left reinforces my belief that the Liberals need to reverse their traditional modus operandi. Instead of talking left – new left -- and governing right, they need to talk right and govern left. They can start by sending the right message to the public by cleaning up their own house. The core of liberalism as an ideology is universality; special provisions inevitably damage the party’s brand. Abolish the Women and Aboriginal People’s commissions, revamp the delegate selection process or dump it altogether and stop insisting on a quota of women candidates. The Liberals need simplify and de-clutter their message. Stop talking about women, aboriginals, Quebecers, rural Canadians, “cities” in speeches and talking points that reach a broad audience and get back to talking about just “Canadians”. Micro messaging turns off more voters than it attracts.

The Liberals also need to stop trying to minimize the differences between themselves and the Conservatives. When it comes to Quebec, taxes and most recently crime the Liberal party has been chasing after the Conservative party for years. Not only is this a daft strategy short term, long term it has been disastrous. These issues can not be “neutralized” in the way that Afghanistan was. Trying to match the Conservatives tax cut for tax, for example only serves to focus all the attention on an issue that the Conservatives will win on every single time.

The flip side of trying to minimize the differences between themselves and the Conservatives and not running on a truly alternative vision is that the Liberals have proclaimed themselves to be the champions of the status quo. Needless to say, this is an odd position for an ostensively liberal party to take. However, with Harper having been in power for 2 plus years now and the Bush regime thankfully at an end, the days of railing against the Conservatives “hidden agenda” are over.

The Liberals need to embrace universality again and I do not mean just the rhetoric. The Liberals need to promise to end the war on drugs instead of sitting back and letting the Conservatives box their ears in with their get tough on crime agenda. Finally the Liberals need to be confident that social liberalism and universal social programs are a better sell in Quebec than being called a “nation” and having a seat – or not -- at unesco.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Liberals and New Media; Some Brief Thoughts

Given their precarious financial situation, the Liberals need to take advantage of new media. The problem is they do not know how to do it. The good news is that they are not alone. The major parties seem to see new media as just another means by which to disseminate current talking points and boiler plate. The model is top down. For blogs to be any use to the party, the party should be thinking bottom up. This is what the Liberals should aim for.

The totality of interactions on self identified Liberal blogs produces and refines some talking points.

Lib blogs serves de facto war room, albeit a secondary one.

Lib blogs serves as means of spreading information that the MSM refuses to pick up

Lib blogs serves as means of extending the news cycle of issue that damaging to the Conservatives

Of course, for any of this to happen Lib blogs has to grow substantially larger. The number of regular posters is puny. The $64,000 question is to how to foster such development.

The potential of online video as means hitting the opposition over the head should be obvious by now and the Liberals seem to have caught on. What seems to escaped the party’s attention is how to use online video as means of reaching voters in a positive way. No one is going to watch boiler plate. No one cares whether Dion has a web journal. No one is going to watch how Liberals are going to be make Canada “a fairer, Greener”, place. If you want to catch people’s attention (a la what Obama was able to achieve on his essay on race), you have to talk up to them and not talk down. Online video should be seen as means of demonstrating your leader or team’s knowledge and smarts and not necessarily as means of furthering some policy end. You Tube is made for someone like Ignatieff.