Trippi Review; And the winner WAS.. Old school dirty tricks

Joe Trippi

Joe Trippi

In this continuing review of Joe Trippi’s “The Revolution will Not be Televised” , I have to report some pretty mixed feelings. In his book, as the ‘Dean for America’ online campaign takes flight, it massively exceeds the political establishments expectations. At the same time, the organizational weakness of the Dean for America campaign starts to exert a negative influence.

I guess I’ll break it into two competing themes. The first is so exciting to read about! Born out of need, the web based networking campaign starts to virally spread it’s wings, and permeates every crack of every region in America. The integration of, and later the GetLocal tools into the campaign really empower decentralized campaigning. People are easily enabled to act on their own initiative. Instead of passively waiting to be organized, the ‘membership’ seizes these tools, and starts to organize hundreds, and then thousands of events without reference to the Campaign team in Vermont. According to Trippi, it is this very act of empowerment that breathes life and vigour into the campaign. Dean himself becomes the vessel into which thousands upon thousands of people pour their hopes and dreams. In practical terms, meetup actively engages people, and pulls them from their musty basements into the real world as political activists. It is the tool which translates thought, debate, and sense of community into action.

As the campaign progresses, and the wider world of old school media, and machine politics of the democratic Party starts to notice something happening, things are taking a somewhat different turn. Trippi the long time operative, fieldwork guru, and master of message is watching both the wild new world unfolding, and the ‘real world’ big bad wolf knocking at the door. The opposition research of the competing campaigns is building their files, and starting to release damaging attacks on Dean in the old world of Televised politics. The Campaign is suffering from the usual divided camps within the campaign office. There are few communications professionals to massage the media and message. This is aggravated by Dean’s unscripted, and off message public communications. Without a team to help craft the message, and spin the opposition press releases, more and more damaging hits are being landed on the campaign. Is the fieldwork solid in Idaho? The answer is no. On the ground, there is tons of action, and the new world is having an astounding impact, but the solid, methodical, machine like groundwork is not quite happening.

The demise of the Dean for America campaign was, according to Trippi, an out of context, but embarrasing video clip palyed over, and over, and over again by the mainstream media. The ultimate victory of the ‘big guns’, was determined despite all the thousands of faithful grassroots supporters. An indifferent public was bombarded with inconsequential fluff, and the Campaign was thus decided.

There is so much of interest in this story overall, and I would enthusiastically endorse it as a good read. As a template for the new world of politics, my expectations were upset. By repute, Trippi had revolutionised politics, and the old ways of TV politics were doomed. After a cereful reading, what I take away is the opposite. Yes, there exists an exciting ‘new’ tool that Trippi released on the world. Yes, it HAS changed the way that politics is done in North America. No, the old world of TV politics is nowhere near doomed. These campaign tools are the subtext, while the Campaign writ large is still about message, organization, Identifying, then getting out the vote.

Just look at Obama. His team wrote the most recent chapter in this saga, and they won by feeding their machine with the juices squeezed from Trippi’s creation. Their grassroots organization was inspired by the Dean campaign. Their air war, and ground war were inspired by hundreds of years of electoral political history.

The Liberal Gift to the Green Party of Canada.

liberal_logoI know I have been blogging a lot on the Liberal party lately. That is because I think that the re-vitalization of the Liberals will pose the biggest threat to the Green Party of Canada in the next Election. The threat the Liberals pose to the Conservatives, and NDP is greater though, because Stephan Dion presented an enormous gift to the GPC. Ignatieff will shortly add a bow and ribbon to it. That gift goes by the name of ; ‘The Green Shift’.

Most of my readers will remember that a Green Tax shift, and the use of market mechanisms to

Green Party Concept

Green Party Concept

fight pollution have been an integral part of Green Party policy for years now. Having studied neo-classical economics, this is in fact the main policy plank that prompted me to join the party in 2004. I was astounded that somebody had the balls to propose a revenue neutral tax on a seriously bad externality, in order to address the root causes. Now that’s good public policy, and has won thousands of volunteer hours from me.

As we all know, Stephan Dion championed a flawed version of this most excellent policy in the 2008 election. It is not hyperbole to state that he failed miserably to sell the package to the electorate. What he did do though, is catch the attention of millions of Canadians, and there is no doubt that there are millions of Canadians with whom the message resonated, even if the messenger earned a bullet.

Ignatieff Burying Dion

Ignatieff Burying Dion

In the process of re-casting the Liberal Party in his own image, Michael Ignatieff will almost certainly hide the green tax shift in the deepest hole he can find. That is the Green Party’s great opportunity. An awful lot of thoughtful Progressive Conservatives, Liberals, and moderate apolitical Canadians will not want to see this great Tax Credit plan disappear, so it is time for the Green Party to really work the issue. After all, there is just no way to claim that Tax Shifting is fringe policy anymore.

So, in a nutshell this is the Liberal Party’s gift to the Green Party of Canada. They borrowed one of our main policy planks. They spent millions of dollars, and tens of millions worth of free publicity to promote a flawed version of our policy to the electorate. Now they will hand it back to us saying, ‘It’s broken, you can have it.’ My response is ‘Thank you very much’. Now we can re-polish it as a tax relief plan, and scoop up those Progressive Conservative, and Liberal voters who actually care about good policy. Just like you and me.

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Green Party Election Strategy: Rising Tide, or Beachhead Ridings?

Lifts All Boats

Lifts All Boats

I recently read an article by an articulate, and thoughtful Green Party activist, Kevin Colton. There has long been debate in the Green Party of Canada choosing between two strategic and organizing imperatives. Because Kevin put the argument so very well for the so-called rising tide strategy, I thought I should refer to it when arguing the contrary.

The first of two schools of thought is that the Green Party should build infrastructure on the regional and national level. Any success in an individual riding is short lived, and illusory because these beachhead efforts always fall short of actually winning the seat. Kevin argues, very well, that a little effort goes a long way in an area that has no infrastructure, and no organizational depth. By nurturing humble beginnings, it is possible to achieve critical mass, and move on to bigger and better things.


Establishing the Beachhead

The counter arguments are that the Green Party would enjoy an enormous boost as soon as the first candidates are elected. Once the GPC takes it’s place in Parliament, the added visibility will make it much more credible, and therefore more attractive to quality candidates, and the electorate.

I would argue that this is a false choice. There is a certain minimal level of support that will help inexperienced Riding executives to nurture their volunteer base, fundraising skills, and basic campaigning know-how. All EDA’s should get a basic helping hand. Throwing additional monetary resources at a basic EDA that has a minimal volunteer base, a mediocre candidate, little campaign experience, and no reasonable prospect of ever electing a Candidate is not a wise use of scarce resources though.

Since the GPC is constituted as a Political Party, with the stated objective of electing candidates to Parliament, GPC strategy should be focused on achieving this objective as quickly as possible. There are a number of ridings across the country which are likely to become a GPC beachhead riding. Those ridings where the electorate is fairly evenly split between 3 or more party’s have demonstrable potential to be swayed by alternate messages, or Party loyalties. Ultimate electoral success in any riding will depend upon the quality of candidates above all, followed by the numbers of volunteers, and an identified base of historical GPC voters. In these split ridings in particular, the GPC should be pouring the maximum resources available in every subsequent election. I only need point to Bruce Grey Owen Sound, or Guelph, or Saanich, etc. to bring forth examples of ridings that have grown in organizational depth, and all the skills and resources required to ‘put the puck in the net’. The fact that Bruce Grey Owen Sound is not readily winnable because of the pre-eminence of the Conservatives is beside the point. (No 3 way split present). If you were to graft their organization, and super candidate onto any of the 20 I have identified elsewhere, we would have elected our first sitting member in 2008.

Bruce Grey Owen Sound is a great case study for the beachhead strategy. In the 2003 – 2004 Provincial, and Federal elections, the riding was fairly typical, with a share of the vote of 1.7% provincially, and just over 4% Federally.

shane-jolleyIn the 2006 Federal Election, a strong local candidate, Shane Jolley stepped forward, and after significant organizational improvements Shane brought the results up by 8.74% Federally, to a total of 12.91%. (copy edit thanks to correction by Shane Jolley).In the 2007 Provincial Election, the riding was identified as a beachhead riding, and significant resources were put into the race. Shane finished with a strong second place with 33% of the popular vote. Despite a local mini-scandal whereby Shane was replaced as candidate by the dick-hibmapopular Dick Hibma, in the 2008 Federal election the Greens retained the lions share of their voters, while scoring 27.2% of the popular vote. I think this establishes pretty clearly that strong candidates, plus adequate resources can bring a low popular standing a very long way over a few short years. If this type of success can be transplanted to the 20 beachhead ridings I have identified elsewhere, then it is probable that several ridings will return an elected MP anytime from 2010 on.

In conclusion I will opine that the GPC should give basic assistance plus a little to every riding that proves capable of helping itself. For those where the future electoral prospects look solid, no effort should be spared in recruiting star candidates, focused membership drives, and providing logistical support.

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Green Party of Canada So Long Jim Harris – For Now.

Jim Harris  -  Leading Light of the GPC

Jim Harris - Leading Light of the GPC

The recent announcement by Jim Harris, longtime leader of the Green Party of Canada, that he is taking a ‘sabbatical’ from the GPC has garnered little attention in the media, and Green Party circles. I will try not to make this post sound like an obituary, because I am convinced that we haven’t seen the last of Jim.

Jim Harris served as Leader of the Green Party of Canada, after years of activism with the Green Party that started many years ago when he was employed as a staffer with the Green Party in the UK. I first met Jim at a garden party at his house in East York, in the days after the 2004 election. He was always a bit of an odd bird, and his strength was derived from superior organizing, and fundraising ability, less than from a magnetic personality. All Greens acknowledge the hard work, and his, (at the time), extraordinary ability to induce supporters to part with their money. Fewer Greens, (and I am amongst them), credit Jim with a fundamental breakthrough. He single handedly changed the image of the Green Party of Canada from that of a looney left wing Party, to a party was ‘neither left, nor right, BUT forward’. By espousing fiscal conservatism, social progressivism, and environmental sustainability, he broadened the appeal of the GPC to welcome in throngs of disaffected Red Tories, and Liberals.

Having known Jim for 5 years, I can tell you there is more to his departure than can be read in his gentlemanly ‘sabbatical’ announcement. He has served recently as the chair of the 18 member Federal Campaign Committee. It is interesting to note that in the wake of the recent election this committee has suffered a rash of resignations, that some have characterized as a coup. The resignation of 7 members left a clear majority of 100% Elizabeth May loyalists. It seems that responsibility for the organizational problems in the last election is not to be laid at the Leaders

Sharon Labchuk. Is she up to the job?

Sharon Labchuk. Is she up to the job?

door, but on the small number of experienced Campaigners on the committee. I will not point fingers, but some of the people on the committee are, frankly, not competent to plan a campaign, while some of those resigning are amongst the best campaigners who stuck around after David Chernushenko’s defeat, and subsequent retreat from GPC politics.

This development is not a good sign for the future of the GPC. I will suspend judgement until we see if the new and improved committee is able to start marshaling the resources of the GPC. I frankly do not care what they want to blame the failures in the last election on. I will reserve judgement for a few months. Until I start seeing them recruiting quality candidates, reaching out and teaching the EDA’s how to campaign, and driving membership numbers back up, I will assume that this housecleaning had nothing to do with Election readiness, and everything to do with???

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Green Party 2008 Election Results. Win or Loss?

Green Party win or loss?

Green Party win or loss?

I just picked up the validated results from the Elections Canada Website. I didn’t bother sorting out the judicial recounts etc. but the total Green Party vote was 937,643 ballots from a total of 13,719,113 ballots cast. That adds up to 6.83% of the vote.

I guess that looks like a win compared to the 2006 election, because the vote count went up from 664,068, and 4.5%. The GPC funding moves from about $1.3 million to around $1.8 million per annum, plus when the next election hits the GPC will get the same amount to fund the next election, as soon as the writ is dropped. Given the past financial straits of the party, (they were essentially broke when Elizabeth May took over), this shot in the arm, when married to the newfound fundraising prowess means they should be solvent. Solvency will depend on retiring their debts, and prudent budgetting, but lets just assume they’ll manage that OK?

The loss part is based upon the hard and pointy fact that expectations were raised to an unreasonable level. The public was repeatedly informed that the GPC would win seats. There was a whack of media attention, the debate participation, public statements by the leader, and spokespersons. There was no obvious plan to actually make seat wins happen though.

It was more than conceivable that seats could be won. Recruiting a few excellent candidates for potentially winnable ridings would have been a starting point. Follow that by pre-election organising in said potentially winnable ridings. Hire some real campaign managers, and communications people, lend staffers to the breakthrough targets, and ensure full funding and it might have come true. At least may have come close.

It was not to be. Now the political credibility of Elizabeth has been largely spent. The sense of fair play in the country will be inclined to say, ‘we gave them their chance, they got the debate spot they have been demanding, and they couldn’t even get their leader elected’.

On balance, the bad news outweighs the good. If the GPC cannot score a by-election win soon, then they will suffer big time in the 2009 – 2010 election. It pains me to say it, but the failure was in managing expectations. Promise seats + don’t deliver = you are a failure.

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