Warren Kinsella: Fight the Right, Cap Speakers Series NSCU Centre for the Performing Arts, Monday, Oct. 29 at 7: 30 p.m. Tickets $18/$15.
IN the makeup room of a nationally syndicated TV show, the politician met the producer.
The politician was Richard Nixon. The 1968 presidential election was looming and Nixon was hoping to rebound from a close and controversial loss to the more TV camera-friendly John F. Kennedy eight years earlier.
The producer was Roger Ailes, who went on to advise Republican presidents Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He also founded Fox News, known for big conservative personalities and small fact-checking departments.
In that first meeting, the seeds were sown for both a professional relationship and a right-wing ascendancy that continues 45 years later with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Canada and a swell of rightwing candidates in Western Europe, according to political pundit Warren Kinsella.
"Those two guys figured out how to transform blue-collar Democrats into blue-collar Republicans," Kinsella says.
"Conservatives, whether you like them or not, you have to give them credit. They're just getting increasingly better at winning elections for a whole number of reasons."
Kinsella, who advised Jean Chretien during the former Liberal leader's decade as Prime Minister, looks at how to undo conservative dominance in his new book Fight the Right: A Manual for Surviving the Coming Conservative Apocalypse.
The former punk bassist notes the way Nixon and Ailes harnessed a primarily southern backlash to the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, and the anti-war struggle to create a new base of support.
"He transformed the perceptions that working class Americans had of those three things and started to move them into the conservative category," he says. "Harper has done a lot of the same things here in Canada in the last 10 years. It had the result of just making them win more elections."
Kinsella's work "drips with condescension and disdain," according to Toronto Sun columnist Jerry Agar, who derides the book for its lack of facts and the author's hatred of Conservatives.
While the book includes chapter titles like: How a Conservative Thinks (Or Doesn't), and How Conservatives Stole Values, the book is underpinned by an admiration for the effectiveness of Conservative tactics.
In the 2011 election, the Liberals garnered 34 out of 308 seats, finishing a distant third behind the NDP and Conservatives.
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff was the subject of frequent attack ads that painted him as an intellectual elitist who lacked patriotism. The commercials usually concluded with the phrase: "He didn't come back for you."
Speaking on election night in 2011, North Vancouver New Democratic Party candidate Michael Charrois summarized the sparse Liberal turnout: "Harper framed Ignatieff, and he couldn't get out of the frame."
Kinsella's book is largely about controlling the frame, and the way political discussions can be weighted by establishing the dominant vocabulary. At the moment, Kinsella believes Conservatives are winning the linguistic battle.
"Something like 'oil drilling' becomes 'energy exploration,' he writes. "It's not government 'outsourcing' - instead, it's government 'innovation.' It's never 'undocumented workers,' naturally - it's 'illegal' aliens or refugees."
Finding a dynamic symbol can be the key to changing a perception, according to Kinsella.
The author and former lawyer writes at length about the growing viewpoint in the early 1990s that Jean Chretien was old and enfeebled, and no match for the youth and energy of Conservative Kim Campbell.
And then Chretien was photographed waterskiing.
"That's when 'yesterday's man' went out the window. And it turned things around: my so-called health problem disappeared," Chretien says in the book. "My words could not have convinced the press . . . my actions had to convince the press."
Controlling language and speaking about values win elections, according to Kinsella, discussing the first debate between incumbent Barack Obama and conservative challenger Mitt Romney for the U.S. presidency.
"The president came across sounding a little like a university professor, and he was just iterating lists of statistics and factoids and it was Romney who was speaking most effectively in the language of ordinary folks and talking just repeatedly about values. That's one of the main reasons why he won that debate," Kinsella says.
Unsurprisingly for a man who wrote the book Kicking Ass in Canadian Politics, Kinsella advocates aggression, and if Obama loses it can be chalked up to an unwillingness to exploit Romney's refusal to disclose his tax records.
"They let him get away with it," Kinsella says in disbelief. "He still hasn't disclosed what any other presidential candidate in history has routinely released. Those are the kind of mistakes out of which defeats are made."
Kinsella was also critical of Obama for not harnessing the energy of the Occupy movement.
"They have the message there: the one per cent versus the 99 per cent. Nobody would ever seriously consider Romney to have been anything other than the one per cent of the one per cent.
He comes from the most privileged and the most well-off."
Left-wing parties have a harmful reluctance to embrace cultural tides, according to Kinsella.
"I think conservatives tend to be much more adept at embracing and absorbing populist movements," he says, discussing the Tea Party's integration into the Republicans and the Canadian Alliance melding with the Progressive Conservative Party. "I think it may be kind of a sociological thing where liberals have a tendency to have an antipathy or a suspicion about populism, and I guess what I'm saying is you shouldn't."
As for the Liberals and the NDP, Kinsella believes their choice is simple: they can co-operate or they can lose.
"I don't care if it's a merger, or coalition or just some riding by riding co-operation, you've got to do something," he says.
Harper's success was contingent on uniting disparate conservatives, according to Kinsella.
"It was a mathematical analysis: if these various warring conservative factions remain apart, Liberals will continue to win . . . and if I bring them together, I will win," Kinsella says of Harper's strategy.
But while many countries have gravitated to what Kinsella calls, "a binary political universe," the Liberals and NDP remain divided.
"They feel that their party has a tradition of its own and a history of its own worth preserving, and I understand that. It's powerfully emotional stuff for a lot of people, but I guess what I'm arguing for is for people to be a little bit more clinical in the way that the Prime Minister was," Kinsella says.
The numbers from last year's federal election seem to support Kinsella, as the Conservative party captured 54 per cent of the seats with approximately 40 per cent of the vote.
Part of the reason for the Conservative Party's electoral efficiency is an information database on each community in the country, according to Kinsella.
"The Conservative Party had more money than God and they were able to funnel that into buying the kind of demographic database information that previously only Coca-Cola and Proctor and Gamble had," Kinsella explains. "It's not just knowing your address and your name and so on. These guys are able to know the kind of toothpaste that you use, the routes you take to work, the kind of car you drive and they're able to micro-target. So it's not just North Van District, they know particular city blocks. They know what people are pre-occupied with on one block in North Van. . . . 'We know for example in this part of North Van there's a concentration of Iranian-Canadians, so let's target some messages with respect to what's going on in Iran, and civil liberties in Iran.' Whereas in another part of the riding they just wouldn't do that."
While a left-wing coalition remains unlikely, Kinsella sees great promise in Justin Trudeau, the son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.
"Political people like to get excited, too," Kinsella says. "Justin represents an exciting opportunity for Liberals. I think he does two things I advocate in the book: he's a very compelling speaker, very passionate speaker. And if you look at that speech he made the night he announced his candidacy, he talks repeatedly about values, middle-class values, and Canadian values. He's not the only politician who does that, the Prime Minister does that as well."
Trudeau may also appeal to the three most important groups for Liberal success, according to Kinsella.
"The three pillars of any progressive party's success are newcomers to a country, women, and young people, and Trudeau is appealing because he's appealing to all three of those constituencies, so that bodes well for the Liberals."
Despite Kinsella's distaste of Conservative policies, he does find some diversity on the other side of the aisle.
"The Prime Minister has shown us, and I give him credit for this, he's not a social conservative to the extent that some of us thought he might be. He voted with the NDP and the Liberals on abortion," he says, referring to the Tory-backed anti-abortion bill that was defeated earlier this year.
Asked if he'd get back in the Liberals' war room, Kinsella is somewhat reticent. "For the right candidate," he answers. "But maybe it's time for some new faces, too. I'm becoming kind of an old fart, myself, so maybe it's time for some new folks to step up and take those kinds of roles."