A Liberal spin doctor on how to fight the right
"Stephen Harper is going to win the next federal election, period."
That was the bold prediction from Warren Kinsella, the self-declared Liberal spin doctor, who dropped by The Vancouver Observer office last week to discuss his latest book, Fight the Right. The cover declares the book as 'a manual for surviving the coming Conservative apocalypse.'
"He's going to win principally because Liberals and New Democrats can't get their acts together," he said. Kinsella is talking about two things in particular: 1) having the NDP and Liberals unite like the Progressive and Reform Conservatives did under Harper, and 2) reclaiming "values" as part of the Canadian left's pitch to voters.
"They connect with people or they seek to connect people-- and I would argue cynically-- at the level of their hearts before their minds. So why did they do that?" Kinsella said, raising his eyebrows.
"[The Conservatives] recognized before the progressives did that the political brain is an emotional organ," he explained.
"If logic plays a role in political choices, it's a supporting role."
The values he's talking about are issues close to voters from middle class families: safeguarding the economy, keeping crime rates down, and pandering to whatever ethnic or religious backgrounds the voter identifies with.
Kinsella backs up his argument about the importance of language and emotions in politics with examples from his own experiences as a part of the Liberal Party's election strategy team in the 1990s, and as a staffer under former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and Public Works Minister David Dingwall in his book.
He cites examples such as Chrétien's dramatic re-branding from "yesterday's man" to a victorious leader against the relatively fresh-faced, dynamic Kim Campbell in the 1993 federal election.
According to Kinsella, it was a photo of Chrétien water skiing on one leg on the Canada Day long weekend.
The game-changer: Jean Chrétien water skiing in 1993 made front pages across Canada.
Harper is using the same tactics now, consciously branding himself as an everyman, or what Kinsella calls a "HOAG" (hell of a guy) with his overt attempts to be photographed consuming Tim Hortons products and participating in hockey culture.
Stephen Harper, being a "hell of a guy" with his Tim Hortons coffee at a hockey game. Photo source: Photoswebpm on Flickr.
"I grew up in Calgary, and I knew Harper when he was a political assistant," Kinsella said. "I don't think he was in a Tim Hortons until 2004. But he sought to convince you that he was. That his values are, as they say, congruent with yours. Some people have bought into it."
Conservatives "seek to lead the thing they hate"
Kinsella said that to him, Conservatives are a paradox.
"Conservatives hate government. It's a paradox they have to grapple with--they seek to lead the thing the hate," he said.
By contrast, Kinsella defines "progressive" as "somebody who believes in the power of government to do good."
"Someone who believes the government has an obligations to help the sick, the infirm. It's not to do everything for everyone, but it is to help people," he said. "That is the right and proper role of government."
Does Kinsella believe that it's dangerous to advocate negative spin?
"It's not negative to tell the truth about your opponent," Kinsella said.
His reasoning: they're all seeking high public office, and the priviliege to exercise power that affects people's lives.
"The way I look at it is, it's my obligation to tell the truth about the public record. The votes, the quotes, the expenditures of my opponent," he said.
"That's not being negative and you can tell the truth. You can do that in a way that is consistent with your values."