Political professionals — the men and women who work behind the scenes to plot strategy and to make politicians look and sound good – must understand and appreciate the power of emotion in politics, without ever succumbing to it themselves.
But unfortunately, sometimes they do succumb.
A case in point is pollster Bruce Anderson who recently penned a column for Maclean’s magazine which savages the strategies, tactics and methods of political consultant Nick Kouvalis.
Rather than providing a rational analysis of those tactics, Anderson, who uses phrases like “political thuggery” and “low information vote whisperer” when describing Kouvalis, offers readers nothing but an angry rant.
And what seems to anger him the most is that Kouvalis is successful.
Interestingly, he also suggests the media should ignore Kouvalis’s success. (Though ironically, by attacking Kouvalis in Maclean’s magazine, Anderson is giving him more publicity.)
Now maybe I’m old fashioned, but to my mind such an attack is in poor form.
It’s one thing for a pollster or a consultant to criticize a candidate or a politician, but it’s quite another thing to go after someone else in your own discipline.
Certainly, it seems wrong in my mind to use a public forum to harm a competitor’s business or to undermine his or her reputation.
It violates what should be a code of honour, whereby you respect your fellow professionals, your colleagues.
That’s not to say Anderson has to admire Kouvalis or like his tactics, but he should at least gracefully accept the fact that other consultants have the right to conduct their business as they see fit.
Also please note, in his column Anderson does not accuse Kouvalis of doing anything illegal nor does he suggest Kouvalis is cheating in anyway.
Rather what gives him such moral pain is that the campaign Kouvalis put together for Conservative leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch is “flimsy and cynical.”
Well, all I can say is if that’s a sin than every political strategist in history is going to hell because those two words can be used to describe virtually all campaigns.
I mean, Justin Trudeau’s strategy of selfies and photo ops isn’t exactly heavy in intellectual content, is it?
Anderson also assails Kouvalis for exploiting “fears and resentments.”
But again, exploiting such emotions is par for the course in politics.
To be logically consistent, Anderson should write a column denouncing other strategists who use similar tactics, such as the ones behind the campaigns of Jean Chretien, Kathleen Wynne, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton to name but a few.
Why single out Kouvalis?
Is it personal animosity? Professional jealousy? Partisanship?
Also, there’s an important ethical question here.
Whether or not you like the tactics he’s crafted for Leitch, Kouvalis is simply doing his job as best he can; he’s trying to give his client her best shot at winning.
That’s what professionals are supposed to do.
Would Anderson prefer it, if Kouvalis took Leitch’s money and then ran a campaign he knew would give her less chance for success?
Wouldn’t that be like taking Leitch’s money under false pretenses?
And let’s not forget a more mundane issue at stake here: It’s simply good business sense to stay on friendly terms with other professionals. After all, it doesn’t really make sense to attack a colleague who might one day want to hire you.
Due to the ever shifting nature of political circumstances, today’s enemy could be tomorrow’s ally.
So why poison any wells?
Besides, at the end of the day, the market will decide.
If voters find Kouvalis’s tactics unpersuasive or repulsive to, his candidates will lose.
Let wrap this up by saying Anderson isn’t the only professional in the business who engages in public spats with other professionals.
Indeed, it’s a growing trend.
Social media has made such confrontations all too easy.
Yet I still believe it’s unseemly and which I wish it would stop.
And yes, I realize that by criticizing Anderson in this blog I am perhaps violating my own code about attacking professionals.
But then again, in his column, Anderson used negative tactics to attack negative campaigning, so I guess that makes us even in the hypocrisy department.