Sunday, September 13, 2015

2015 Election: Wait for Stephen Harper’s Dead Cats on a Table

Dead Cat on a Table
It is ironic that the man who tried to show off his cuddly, soft, compassionate, human side by having photographs taken with him cuddling cute little kittens, should be resorting to the use of a man described by some as a Master of Dark Arts, who has as one of his political strategies a method called the Dead Cat.

This is how journalist Tu Thank Ha describes this tool in the toolkit of the Master of Dark Arts, Lynton Crosby, in Saturday’s Globe & Mail:
His detractors accuse him of dog-whistle politics, where the political message comes with a coded appeal tailored for a specific segment of the electorate.

But it is also about something called the dead cat strategy.

Mr. Johnson mentioned that approach in a comment piece he penned in the Telegraph in 2013.
If you’re losing an argument, if you’re in a weak position, throw a dead cat on the table, the London mayor wrote.

“Everyone will shout ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’; in other words they will be talking about the dead cat, the thing you want them to talk about, and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”

Mr. Johnson attributed the idea to an unnamed person he praised as an “Australian friend” and “great campaigner” with “the rich and fruity vocabulary of Australian political analysis.”

Watch for Harper to throw Dead Cats on the table over the course of the rest of the election campaign.

Careful, Kitty!
The Dead Cat strategy is a variant of the change the channel strategy, something that Harper has tried several times since calling the election, mostly unsuccessfully.

Lynton Crosby is on record about his view of the most important part of political campaigning:

“At its absolute simplest, a campaign is simply finding out who will decide the outcome … where are they, what matters to them, and how do you reach them?” Mr. Crosby said in 2013 during a masterclass to minority youth leaders in Britain.

Sound familiar? Crosby has been advising the Harper ‘new’ Conservative Party for some time, and this has been (or was, before the apparently recent neglect of the vaunted Tory digital communications by the chief campaign strategist, Ms Byrnes) one of the chief strengths of the Conservative Party. It is the foundation stone of Harper’s continuous slice-and-dice approach to voters: find ‘em and feed ‘em.

The Dead Cat strategy fits into the general tactics (including misdirection; admit nothing, deny everything and counterattack; entertain at all costs) of waging political war that Roger Stone, a former advisor to Donald Trump, adopts. According to Mathew Boyle, one of Roger Stone’s chief tactics is this:

“Hit it from every angle. Open multiple fronts on your enemy. He must be confused, and feel besieged on every side,” probably the most important of “Stone’s Rules” reads, according to the Labash profile.

For more on Roger Stone’s guerrilla war tactics, see my earlier post.

The trouble with such political strategies is that if the media keeps a checklist of the strategies close at hand (Hint, CBC, CTV, The Toronto Star et al) they can easily check the latest announcement by the politician against the list, and then name it in their commentary.

Exposing the strategy for what it is, often defuses its impact. Such exposure can also deter the politician from using it again, because he or she faces a barrage of questions about the nature of the strategy being used, rather than discussions, for example, about the Dead Cat on the table.

I doubt that any Canadian politician will want to run the risk of being exposed as using dirty tricks imported from Australia or some other country. After all, should not dirty tricks used by Canadian politicians at least be time-honoured Canadian tricks?

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