Friday, December 08, 2006

Why the Liberal Leadership Campaign Sucked, Part 4

My fourth (and probably last) post in this series involves the multitude of smear campaigns and nasty blogging that occurred during the campaign. I can't document it all here. During most of the campaign I was trying to ignore it, and as horrible comments came into my blog I just deleted them. However there's enough of a record left around to paint a pretty grim picture of the Liberal body politic, especially in the blogosphere.

Of course I want to provide the caveat that most Liberals were not involved in dirty tricks and smears and there is no evidence that any of the candidates endorsed this behavior. But what we should be aiming at is: When you support a candidate, encourage other Liberals to vote for your candidate by arguing that he or she is the best for the job. Argue the weaknesses of other candidates but only in a polite and reasoned way. Respect the choice and perspective of people who support other candidates.

The following flyer was distributed electronically during the election. (Thanks to Stephen Taylor for this photo.)

For more about the anti-semitic attacks on Rae and his wife, see here. Note that the claims some people make in this article about Rae being anti-Palestinian are totally untrue. The article quotes Tarek Fatah as saying that Gerard Kennedy "has "taken us back to the '30s and '40s" when Catholics and Protestants voted in blocs." Fatah provides the background to the incident here.

After the convention, Stephane Dion condemned the attacks on Rae's wife (although he misspelled her name), but the incident should have resulted in an internal investigation or some sort of stronger statement to ensure it won't happen again.

During the convention, anti-Rae books and buttons were distributed all over the convention floor. (Update: It turned out that these were distributed by Conservative MPs who had observer status.)

Here's a post by blogger Vijay Sippani: "Rae bring NDP dirt to the Convention - Rae organisers are bringing in the dirt from nasty NDP type politics to the Liberal convention. They are encouraging Iggy delegates to chant “I was a Michael Ignatieff supporter, and I decline to cast my ballot.” This is the problem we have with cross over dirty old experienced politicians who bring their baggage with them. Worse he has betrayed Ontario and his friend of three decades, what makes you think he will not betray the Grits and Canada? Think about it."

Here's a post by blogger Devon Francis: "Today at the convention Leadership candidates arrived to register. The day began with Bob Rae registering, with his supporters chanting "Bob Rae, Bob Rae." His crowd was a fairly good size. They were clad in the red t-shirts and carried the posters that depicted Rae in a rather not so flattering way. The overall style, and not content, has been remarked as akin to the Nazi party material. Half red and halfblack and white, one cannot help feel the empire-ish sentiment it conveys. Further, the Rae campaign has been passing posters and cards advocating a Rae-volution. I must ask, is this a wise political move? A former NDP (socialist) leader, advocating revolution,... Does anyone else find this troubling?"

During the campaign, the percentage of blogs in Liblogs that smeared other candidates was enormous. And the nastiness of the comments to posts were even worse. Then there was the aftermath... the Nyah-nyah-nuh-nyah-nyah'ing done by supporters of Dion and especially Kennedy that went on and on.

It all just made me sick to my stomach. This isn't politics. At its best it's a frat house brawl; at its worst (the anti-semitic attacks on Rae's wife) it was bordering on hate crimes.

Libnews summed it up during the campaign in a post called The Death of Discourse. Some of the comments on that post sum up how I feel better than I could. Jason Bo Green wrote: "I think I’m probably getting out of blogging — everything is campaign spin, really... it’s all petty bickering, and instead of debate you get posturing." Fadi Amine wrote: "Three weeks into my blogging experience, I was taken aback by some of the personal attacks on candidates that I was reading and took a couple of days off from blogging to think whether I wanted to be part of such a phenomenon. I even considered quitting altogether. I found that the slightest form of criticism of any of the candidates brought upon an avalanche of anonymous and no profile bloggers who make it their business to defile you and your opinion as much as possible, and the candidate you happen to support. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be part of that." Hear, hear.



Anonymous said...

I sincerely hope this is your last post, because this is all sour grapes. Your candidate lost. So did 3 of the other frontrunners including my favourite. Move on.

KC said...

Many many people had serious problems with some of the candidates. They expressed their concerns. Thats democracy.

Kyle Olsen said...

The anti-Rae buttons came from conservative war room set up to sow party disunity at the convention. Along with the Liberal Observer flyers.

Not being there, you wouldn't know that people treated them as objects of humour, not real attacks.

Yappa said...

No Kyle, it matters how you express your opinions. Telling lies about other candidates; posting nasty invective about candidates; attacking people just because they support other candidates; attacking the wives of candidates - this is not right. At its worst it is slander. But even in milder forms it drives out legitimate discourse; it keeps a lot of people, especially women, from feeling comfortable in politics; and it makes you, your candidate and your party look like jackasses.

Kyle Olsen said...

If you can't roll with the punches from inside the party - the conservatives will toss stuff 100 times worse right back at you.

There are legitimate reasons to not vote for other candidates. It is just as legitimate to bring up facts about the other guy, as it is to praise your own guy to try to convince voters.

You will always have bad apples in the political process - I don't think you can eliminate them. So roll with the punches, move on, and leave the inside baseball on the convention floor.

Kyle Olsen said...

" This isn't politics; it's a frat house brawl."

I think a more appropriate line would be " This is politics it's worse than a frat house brawl."

Kevrichard said...

wow... if this is how a leadership race works with a heavy blog campaign, I can't wait to see the next federal election.

Anonymous said...

Speaking with family friends who've been apart of some of the major political campaigns in the past, they seem to agree that this is politics.

There were nasty things passed out in election campaigns "back in the day" and there were nasty things said then too. It's a real shame.

I'm with you in saying that politics shouldn't be as vicious but I don't think Liberal bloggers are the problem! It's a core competitive attitude that for some people, gets the worst of them.

It's easy to blame the new thing on the block but the blogs are just as effective in exposing the bad parts of campaigns as they are the good parts.

Posting four posts about why the Liberal leadership "sucked" kind of deflates your argument here where you say that the campaign was a big let down. Can't you find ANYTHING good about it?!

Yappa said...

To Darren -

Thanks for your comment. I agree completely that bloggers do a good job at exposing the bad; I didn't intend to blame bloggers for everything, but that's a good point that you made.

Sure, there were good things about the campaign. There always are. But I think there were enough bad things that the party should do something about improving. Not many commenters seem fussed over any of the things I've mentioned, but they seem pretty important to me... Here we've just had all this talk about party reform, and no-one seems in the slightest interested in addressing any of these issues. What does that say about the party?

Kyle Olsen said...

If these issues were solvable, they would have been solved along time ago. Your issues aren't really about renewal, they are about the bad side of politics.

As for renewal, you have attached your one issue (OMOVW) and stated the position that if that is not fullfilled, the party is not renewed.

Representatives of the membership rejected OMOVW in Montreal. By a wide margin (it needed 2/3rds to pass). The membership did drastically change the party constitution in Montreal.

Until conventions are proven to be a bad way for selecting a leader, I think the burden of proof is on the people that want to change the system.

Darren McEwen said...

Fair enough. I got really sick of the spin but I came to expect it.

There was plenty of nastiness out there. One blogger, who still exists somewhere, devoted countless hours to bashing the candidate who I had supported just so he could get more traffic to his blog and collect the three cents per hit or whatever it is from Google.

So maybe this whole thing has kept the economy going? Kidding.

Personal attacks don't belong in any aspect of politics - backrooms, memos, emails, blogs, speeches, etc. etc. they should be off limits but with the growth of the internet, blogs and sites like Youtube, I think we've just begun to be more exposed to such antics. We live in a 24 hour news watching world where someone is always recording (Gurmant Grewal or Linda Tripp) and maybe that will make people more accountable or careful.

But it's rough to read, listen or watch people's antics play out, I agree with you that much.

Yappa said...

I have to say that I'm disappointed in reactions to my post. I wasn't talking about healthy criticism. I referenced an anti-semitic attack on a candidate's wife, among other events. And yet no Liberals seems to mind. This is wrong. Or to repeat myself: Ick, ick, ick.

Speaking as someone who came from another party, I can say that not all parties operate this way. This is not the way politics has to be. Party leadership can and should take a role in improving the situation.

I think this sort of nasty behavior makes it very difficult for some people, especially women, to get involved in politics. I do not believe that winning at all costs is good politics.

Blogging by its very nature can be more inflammatory than other areas of discourse, and that's fine. I myself am a hot-head and write some heated posts. But for the good of the party, I'm starting to think that we need a replacement for Liblogs that imposes some standards on posts. Liblogs has recently published photos of pubescent girls with menstrual blood running down their thighs, outrageous attacks on candidates (such as calling them Nazis), and so on. It's becoming a blogroll that I'm uncomfortable being a part of, despite all the great bloggers who are involved.