The Middle-Aged Guide to Growing Up: Campaigns and Champagne

The picture above shows the front page of the May 18, 1962 edition of the Windsor Star, which shows Prime Minister John Diefenbaker after he addressed a crowd ... In June 1962 he won his final victory and I witnessed my first federal election...
The picture above shows the front page of the May 18, 1962 edition of the Windsor Star, which shows Prime Minister John Diefenbaker after he addressed a crowd … In June 1962 he won his final victory and I witnessed my first federal election…

 Campaigns and Champagne

I’m a Boomer, and the first election I remember was Diefenbaker winning his final victory (a minority) in June of 1962 when I was 8. We lived in the US, but my parents were Liberals and were interested in the outcome. My mother went out and left me with the radio and asked me to tell her who had won. I’m not even sure I got the answer right when she got back.

That’s just the first in a lifetime of election campaigns, some spent as an observer, some as just a voter, some as a volunteer and some as a paid professional. There are a couple of rules I’ve observed over the course of the last few campaigns I’ve polled. I’ll share them here:

Rule #1. If you’re complaining, you’re losing. If the other guy steals your signs, if another candidate implies you’re a racist, don’t complain. Don’t whine. No one likes a whiner. They may sympathize, but they won’t admire you. Always be attacking, always on the offense.

Rule #2. No Headgear. Indian chief headdresses (think Coolidge and Nixon), Fireman hats, hairnets (Gilles Duceppe), military helmets (that photo in the tank was the single most damaging thing Michael Dukakis’ campaign encountered). Barack Obama cancelled a very important visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar because he knew he couldn’t risk the obligatory orange hankie.

Rule #3. Never book a hall bigger than the crowd. What you want, ideally, is a crowd outside the door that can’t get in and a packed room. An overflow room doesn’t hurt. The deadliest thing to see on the news is a half-empty hall, and the news cameramen know how to shoot it so it’s obvious.

Rule #4. No pyrotechnics. After the Pepsi commercial, Michael Jackson wore a wig for the rest of his life. “’Nuff said.

Rule #5. You root for the local team. And you get their name right. How many times have you heard Obama say “You know, I’m from Chicago, and I root for the Cubs, but the (INSERT LOCAL TEAM HERE) really deserve the pennant this year”. In the US, this is even more critical with college teams. You could lose an entire state by referring to the Kentucky Bobcats.

Rule #6. No nookie on the road. Not even with your wife or girlfriend or significant other. Circumstances are just too uncontrollable. Save it for home territory. Then there are the candidates who, um, stray. The Big Dog for instance, Bill Clinton. It’s part of their charisma and drive, they wouldn’t be who they were without the need for hot lovin’. These candidates, especially, have to be watched. Schedule policy briefings until they drop, stand outside the bathroom when they pee.

Rule # 7. Never eat in public. There is no graceful way to do it. Remember Robert Stanfield and the banana, Gerald Ford and the tamale. There is an unfortunate picture of Rick Santorum going down on a corn dog that may do him as much damage as his Google entry.

One of the great spectacles of our time, now lost, was the brokered convention. Unfortunately, live TV only overlapped this amazing show for a few years, but we got some great entertainment out of it. Most people remember the violence of Chicago at the Democratic National Convention in 1968, but in Canada, they were boozy back-slapping parties, with real back-rooms full of real smoke, where real deals got made.

Simon De Jong , a contender for the NDP leadership in 1989, unwisely allowed himself to be mic’ed during the convention. The entire country heard him on the phone with his mother, saying “Mommy, what should I do?” as his supporters tried to convince him to swing his support to Dave Barrett before it was too late. He never lived that moment down. (A sidebar; after retiring from politics, De Jong became involved in the Brazilian mystical Daime Church, and it’s powerful hallucinogenic sacrament, Ayahuasca).

The grand march across the floor (the best conventions were held in hockey rinks) as one candidate took his supporters to another, sometime stopping mischievously to pause, as if unsure to which candidate they were marching. The ritual hanging of new scarves on the new arrivals, the hugs, standing together in the candidate’s box, shoulder-to-shoulder. And you wondered what promises had been made and how they would be kept.

Leadership conventions are automatic affairs these days. The only question at the Liberal leadership convention in 2012 was which multiple of ten Justin Trudeau would win by. In the NDP convention which preceded the Liberal bunfight, it appeared there was a genuine horserace of sorts, with both Nikki Ashton and Nathan Cullen making effective, impassioned speeches at the convention before the voting, while Brian Topp and Tom Mulcair led the pack. But the small percentage of members voting in person at the convention was kabuki. With One Member One Vote (OMOV) and online voting, Thomas Mulcair had been elected leader for days before the convention occurred.

I know, because three days before the convention, I auditioned for the first ad that was going to introduce the new leader. I took copies of the script home with me. It has a section where Olivia Chow praises the new leader, saying “he’s been an effective MP, MPP and Cabinet Minister”. There was only one candidate who fit that description.

So, I guess the old jiggery-pokery still goes on, it’s just hidden in a different way now, not in the back rooms, but in the party’s servers.