The race for national policy chair of the Liberal Party of Canada took a negative turn a little while ago. A former friend of Zach Paikin's posted a blog entry describing his concerns about Zach's ambition, interpersonal dealings with other Liberals and views on a variety of policy issues, most of them related to foreign policy.
The post is a typical example of negative campaigning, straight out of the Prince of Darkness' school of kicking ass in politics. It relies, for the most part, on quoting Zach's own views on policy and characterizing those views as antithetical to Liberal values, policy and general worldview. Similar to how the Conservatives targeted Michael Ignatieff or how the Liberals targeted Stockwell Day, the fundamental idea is to frame Zach as "not one of us" in the minds of Liberal delegates. The post also included a few judgments by the author on Zach's character and dealings with others.
I first discovered the post in a Facebook group about rebuilding the Liberal Party. It was posted by a guy who knew the original author of the blog post. In the subsequent flurry of testosterone-fuelled discussion, several other people, who seemed to know both the original author and Zach, commented on the thread. It was clear to me that some or all of them — none of them candidates, it should be noted — were acting in concert to promote the blog post and its goal of ensuring that Zach is not elected as national policy chair. Some of them used "our" and "we" when making their points. The whole thread was eventually deleted by the admins of the group when it got out of hand.
Partly because the principal antagonists are the sons of well-known Torontonians, the story was picked up by GridTo. It was also reported by CTV when Bob Rae responded to a tweet by Adam Goldenberg with "what is this bullshit?" (I believe Bob was pissed about the comparison with Newt Gingrich, not the Liberals infighting bit).
Anyway, back to the negative campaigning, which I generally dislike. The problem is that it's usually effective in achieving its short-term ends.
I don't begrudge the guys who are opposing Zach for doing so. They seem to be legitimately concerned about his policy views, his judgment and his ability to serve as national policy chair. All of which are fair game. But I do have an issue with how they are going about their campaign, which includes:
- Repeatedly characterizing some of Zach's policy positions as 1) too right wing; 2) too similar to the Conservative Party; 3) inconsistent with liberalism; and/or 4) inconsistent with official Liberal Party policy. While this may be effective in driving some Liberals away from supporting Zach, it sends a message to Liberal members that 1) we are hostile to ideas and 2) if you dissent from official policy on certain issues, you aren't a real Liberal or you are unfit to serve on the executive.
- Aggressively challenging Zach and various Liberals to defend the policies that Zach supports. It's the tone that's problematic. Unsurprisingly, no one has really engaged them in the policy discussion they so desperately want to have.
- Vaguely referring to secondhand accounts of Zach's allegedly inappropriate dealings with other Liberals. Useless hearsay, as far as I'm concerned.
I think it is incredibly short-sighted to launch such a negative campaign, during the early stages of our rebuilding process, against a 20-year-old guy who is running for national policy chair. Yes, they may succeed in preventing Zach from being elected, but they will have severely alienated him, his core supporters and other Liberals in the process. As a result of their negative campaign, I have a pretty low opinion of the folks who are running it.
As far as Zach is concerned, I think he has handled the attack fairly well. In fact, his response belies the claims the negative campaigners have made about his character in the face of opposition. He has shown admirable restraint in responding directly to the people campaigning against him and has tried to stay positive. Even though I disagree with Zach on a host of policy issues and have concerns about his actual platform, the way he has handled these attacks has impressed me.
The negative campaigners, in going so far overboard in their campaign, have generated some sympathy for the very guy they are attacking.
They could have made different choices.
- They could have focused on his actual platform and campaign for national policy chair. For instance, creating a independent Liberal think tank.
- They could have focused solely on Zach's policy views and left out the hearsay about his character.
- In criticizing his policy views, they could have refrained from characterizing them as "Conservative," illiberal, "near-fascistic," "far right," etc.
- In pursuing their campaign, they could have simply been nicer to their fellow Liberals.
I wish they had made different choices. In the longer run, the kind of campaigning they have engaged in hinders rather than helps us rebuild the Liberal Party.