While I’m sure I could go on at length about the damage this sort of campaigning does to the political dialogue, (which is oh-so-precious) what I really want to talk about here is the subtle erosion of Helen Clark’s political position and achievements.
Every once in a while you come across something so insidiously harmful, but so marvelously brazen that you have to sit back to yourself and think: “Holy fuck! What a magnificent bastard1.” And Mark Textor, who is largely behind National’s talking points with regards to Helen Clark, is surely among the most magnificent of bastards. Here’s the relevant quote:
Much of the effort went into attacking Clark. An April 2005 Crosby/Textor report described how the focus group questions probed for latent negative “hesitations or concerns” about her. “Regardless of your overall view of Helen Clark,” the moderator asked, “what would you acknowledge are her weaknesses at the moment, even if they are slight or begrudging weaknesses?” The report’s “strategic opportunities” section concluded that the research revealed “an emerging perception that Helen Clark is too busy with `minorities’ and `other people’ to worry about the concerns and the pressures on `working families’.” They developed a “mantra” about an arrogant and out-of-touch prime minister. “It must be stressed that this sentiment is embryonic and must be consistently demonstrated and leveraged if it is to be effective,” Textor wrote. “These perceptions will not exist and mature on their own.”
C/T took embryonic- perhaps even zygotic- gripes formerly restricted to core National supporters about perceptions of Helen Clark and has used them to define public sentiment against both her and Labour. There’s no doubt we have not seen this sort of professional spindoctoring in New Zealand before. Textor managed to turn a leader who was largely respected as strong, disciplined, principled, and intelligent… and frame her as elitist, cold, arrogant, and out of touch. And they did it through two very simple tactics: Repeatedly attacking her for arrogance and elitism, and letting the core supporters reinforce that by dogwhistling sexism into it, which only reinforces poor impressions from strong women. The most impressive thing about it was that nobody noticed it until it was already too late to turn it around. Yowch.
And of course, now they’re called on their performance, we end up with the accusations being deflected back at Labour and the Greens, despite squeaky clean campaigns completely open about their influence and with no spin doctoring.
1Just FYI, this still works if the person responsible is a woman. Yay! My only distaste is with the implicit discrimination based on marital status… apparently I can only juggle so many fights at once.