Thursday, November 20, 2014

Arthur Finkelstein: "We have to convince Canadians to drink pig piss"

In his bestseller Party of One, Michael Harris cites a lecture the usually reclusive Republican Party backroom political strategist Arthur Finkelstein gave to a conservative free market private college in Prague in May 2011. I've uploaded it below. 

In introducing Finkelstein, aka "the merchant of venom", the college president lauds his work with Ayn Rand and his successful campaigns for Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, Jesse Helms, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu : 
"He pioneered the concept of independent expenditure campaigns which would operate as a third force in an election beyond the control of candidate or party officials." 
One of those "independent expenditure campaigns" in Canada was the occasion of the pig piss quote.  Finkelstein, Harris tells us, had been working in Canada with the the National Citizens Coalition since the 1980's, teaching them "the art of commando politics as practiced in the US" and the 15-second attack ad that will end a career.   Harris:
"In 1988, Finkelstein did a poll that alarmed the far right, suggesting that Canadians might be on the brink of electing NDP leader Ed Broadbent as prime minister. Broadbent stood at 40% in the polls. ... Since there were difficulties driving a scandal-ridden Brian Mulroney's numbers up, the NCC decided to bring Ed Broadbent's down. They spent half a million dollars doing it. .... [A]s [NCC's] Gerry Nicholls reported in his book Loyal to the Core, Finkelstein told his colleagues at the NCC, "We have to convince Canadians to drink pig's piss."       They did."
In the Prague lecture, Finkelstein explains this technique of "rejectionist voting." 

A few quotes transcribed from his lecture:
"The most overwhelming fact of politics is what people do not know rather than what they do know. And in fact in politics it's what you perceive to be true that's true, not truth. This is a very difficult concept for people who are rational, but for those of us who are engaged in politics, it has become the norm. 
... if I tell you one thing is true, you will believe the second thing is true even though you haven't a clue whether I'm telling the truth or not. That is the way politicians behave and a good politician will tell you a few things that are true before he tells you a few things that are not true because you will then believe all the things he has said, true and untrue.
I think we may have caught up with this one actually. When Calandra or Poilievre speak, no one pays any attention because it's all just deflection spin regardless of whether it's true or not. However when Steve or Airshow or Shamwow or Kenney speak, we wait patiently for the important untruth - the only reason they are speaking at all - to make its inevitable appearance.

Tribal or structural voting. 
"Most of an election is over before the first vote or even before the candidates are chosen because the electorate votes according to who they identify with and it doesn't move much. Structural voting takes up 60 to 90% of the vote so almost all of the votes are already decided before you get started which is why you shouldn't spend a lot of time trying to get votes. There is a difference however - there are campaigns where you try to get people not to vote for candidates. I call it rejectionist voting. .... 
In New York there are 2.7 million more Democrats than Republicans. You cannot win in New York as a Republican. But you can if you can create a negative vote against the Democratic candidate among Democrats and the Republicans are irrelevant." 
Finkelstein explains how he never once allowed his NY Republican candidate to go on tv : 
"He was completely irrelevant to the campaign. The campaigns were vicious and mean - we attacked the opponent over and over again and never showed our candidate. It was totally negative." 

Stephen Harper joined the NCC in 1997, resigning as its president in 2002 to run for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance Party. 

Emily Dee introduced us to Finkelstein's influence on Canadian politics three and a half years ago while Montreal Simon reminds us of four Finkelthink attack ads the Cons launched against Dion, Ignatieff, and Layton. 


the salamander said...

.. WoW posting .. thank you .. !
Will reread several times to fully absorb..
Especially blown away by concept
of candidate as irrelevant..
just attack the opponent .. !

the salamander said...

.. on second reading..
I understand how a candidate hiding in a closet
can defeat an opponent.
That explains most of our current MPs
Most of our current Ministers
Our current PM

The current PMO is unexplainable
As are the thousands of 'Justice' lawyers
and Ray Novak, Jenni Byrne & Arthur Hamilton

Alison said...

Salamander : Yeah - your own candidate irrelevant, just attack the opponent.
Certainly explains a few Con campaigns we've seen.

Anonymous said...

Holly Stick:

A media person wants your email, finds your blog interesting. Are you willing to give it? I don't know it.

Unknown said...

Insightful intelligent writing Alison. Its a bit deflating to know the truth but I would rather operate on rational thought and reality than what negative ad campaigns tell me I should think. ever critical and always appreciated the sarcasm and humour. Keep up the great writing Alison and thank you Canadian Cynic for pointing me to this blog.

Alison said...

Hi Holly
Anyone wanting to reach me privately can leave a comment on an old Creekside blogpost - it won't publish but I'll get it.

T. Peterson : Very kind of you to say.
Really just adding what Michael Harris could not embed in his book - a youtube.
Notable that there's obviously limits to what Mr. Finkelstein's methods can achieve, given his client Mitt Romney is not as yet President of the U.S.

Anonymous said...

It would almost seem like his track record is a lot stronger with getting party hacks elected then leaders. He's been diluting the whole legislative process.

There's little wonder in how things stand from this tactic. Nobody needs to be accountable as nobody is even remotely "qualified" to put forward good legislation, and every one who is elected just has to kowtow to their purse strings.

Bernie Sanders was right when he said the US was becoming an Oligarchy and in many ways that also applies here.

Unknown said...

Yes during the infamous 2011 federal election campaign conservatives were ordered not to participate in local debates or town hall meetings.

Silence along with attack adds seems to work...

Anonymous said...

Holly Stick: thanks, message passed on.

Hopefully people are getting wiser to dirty PR tactics with good media stories on Richard Berman:

and Edelman:

Alison said...

Hollystick :

Former NDP Comms Director Key Strategist on Edelman Energy East Astroturf Strategy


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