To the victor go the spoils, and we often just don’t take the time to analyze what went wrong – or what went right – with losing campaigns.

– Joseph Lavoie

Parliament is on a break this week so we are taking the off week to talk to you about our favourite podcasts.

Allie is joined by Joseph Lavoie, who is editorial oversight for Political Traction and Digital Lead at Navigator. It’s probably no surprise that since we make a podcast, we have some strong feelings and opinions on the podcasts we listen to.

Our podcast is not the only one talking about Canadian politics: some of the others also in the game are Canadaland Commons, Maclean’s on the Hill, CBC’s The House, and The Strategists. But we figure if you’re listening to us, you’ve probably already come across these ones before, so we want to share some others with you.

Joseph is a former political staffer and a general political junkie, so his favourite shows speak to his experiences. He breaks down FiveThirtyEight’s episode on Barack Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech from his 2008 campaign. The episode talks about how the now historic speech came about, and how Obama’s team handled the crisis that preceded it.

Joseph also talks about his new favourite show Candidate Confessional. The podcast goes behind the scenes to talk about political defeat and we look at the episode on Mitt Romney’s 2012 run for the White House. Joseph talks about why he thinks Stu Stevens, Mitt Romney’s senior strategist, is worth listening to on the highs and lows of political campaigning.

Allie’s found a new favourite Canadian podcast. She’s a big fan of The Globe and Mail’s new show, Colour code. The podcast talks about something that Canadians tend to shy away from: race. Looking at Canadian issues, examples, and speaking with Canadian experts and Canadians themselves, it’s a refreshing look at our history, our policies, and our perceptions on “multiculturalism.” Allie talks about the two most recent episodes – First Comes Love and 2Legit – and how they relate to her – both personally and professionally.



Transcript of this week’s episode:


Introduction: Political Traction is brought to you by Navigator, Canada’s leading public affairs firm.


Intro Music.


Allie McHugh, Host (AM): Welcome to this week’s episode of Political Traction. So it’s a break week this week for parliament, and we are doing a special episode on our favourite podcasts. So, as you’ve probably noticed because you are one of our listeners, we talk about Canadian politics week after week, and how much traction those issues get with the Canadian public. So let’s start off with a few podcasts that do similar things to what we do, and are Canadian podcasts themselves. So a couple are Canadaland, Maclean’s On the Hill, CBC’s the House, and The Strategists. So those are some podcasts that we listen to regularly to kind of keep in the loop of what’s going on and what people are talking about vis-a-vis Canadian politics. And today on the show, to go over some of our other favourite podcasts, and specifically podcast episodes, I have Joseph Lavoie, who is also editorial oversight for Political Traction. So hi Joseph!


Joseph Lavoie (JL): Bonjour!


AM: Joseph is french (Laugh) And we’re going to talk about some of our favourite episodes from some of our favourite shows. So, first of all, do you have any opinion on the Canadian political podcast, Joseph?


JL: Yeah I mean I think they’re all very good. In many ways, they’re all very different. I love the frankness that The Strategists provide in their weekly analysis. I think the Canada Commons has an ability to bring some influencers on the show, and ask them some pretty tough questions, so I like it from that angle. And of course I remain bias, I do think that our show is interesting, of course. We use data to actually build our analysis on, really looking at how people outside of Ottawa are engaging on our issues. And I just think that’s a unique take, and it complements the broader family of Canadian political podcasts in Canada. So I think that as a whole it’s actually a pretty good selection for those who like to geek out on politics I guess.


AM: Yeah so if you like what we do and you’re interested in some other options, those are some you can look at. Another Canadian podcast that is new that I’m gonna be talking about in a bit is Colour Code and it’s one of my personal favourites at the moment. But before we get to that, we’re gonna start with Joseph’s favourite podcasts and his favourite episodes from these ones. So Joseph why don’t you go right into it.


JL: So this first clip I have comes right from a show I absolutely love. It’s called Candidate Confessional. It was produced by Huffington Post and ran pretty much for the first half of this year. And it’s just fascinating because every episode, they analyze and interview candidates and political staffers who have worked on failed campaigns — losing campaigns. And you know it’s interesting because any political campaigner whose honest with him or herself would acknowledge that in politics you actually tend to lose more campaigns than you win. But the problem is we have a tendency to overanalyze the winning campaigns, talk about what the winning campaigns did — they get all the glory, you know, to the victory goes his spoils — and we often just don’t take the time to analyze what went wrong. Or, just as well, what went right with losing campaigns, which is I think what makes this entire podcast series fascinating.


The one that I specifically wanted to highlight today is one in which the hosts interview Mitt Romney’s campaign manager from his 2012 campaign. His name is Stuart Stevens. He has some pretty fascinating things to say about what worked and what didn’t work with that campaign. And also a lot about some of the false narratives that emerge long after a campaign has been lost. But let me start with this first clip — it highlights a point that we often make here in our line of work. Which is that public affairs campaigns, which are modelled off political campaigns, are actually quite different than traditional PR or marketing campaigns in that the pain of losing is much greater in this business. But I’ll let Stu explain it in greater detail.


Clip from Candidate Confessional


JL: Another reason I think it’s important to look at losing campaigns is because we have a lot to learn from them as I mention, but also because the narratives that come out of any campaign tend to change pretty quickly. And that means that there are often a lot of false narratives that set in, both about the winning campaign and also about the losing campaign. And Stu has a really good point about this which I’ll play for you now. It’s a bit long but I think it’s a great listen.


Clip from Candidate Confessional


AM: I’m going to now talk about my personal favourite podcast of the moment and it’s called Colour Code and it’s by the Globe and Mail. And the two hosts are Hannah Sung and Denise Balkissoon. And if you grew up during the heyday of MuchMusic, Hannah Sung used to be a VJ on Much Music, which was kind of a nice surprise when I was listening to the podcast to hear her again.


JL: What’s MuchMusic, Allie?


AM: Oh, right…Joseph Lavoie is pop culturally devoid. He doesn’t know anything that’s going on outside of politics, which is why his podcasts only focus on those things.


JL: I’m 80 years old inside.


AM: Uh, yes, very much so. One time I explained who DMX was to Joseph. So…


JL: I still think it’s a bike, but whatever.


AM: Colour Code is a new podcast from the Globe and Mail, and it talks about race relations in Canada. And it’s pretty new — I think they’re on episode five or so. So, I really like it because it does a few things. It talks about race in Canada, which is something that we don’t tend to talk about a lot. Which is how they introduce the podcast, as there’s kind of this void in Canada on these conversations. And it relates to politics, it relates to Canadian history, in that race relations relates to both of these things. And they go through a lot of things that we are unfamiliar with, or wouldn’t be exposed to in a mainstream context. So their first episode actually was on indigenous relations and status cards, and it was really, really fascinating and told a lot of things that I was unfamiliar with in terms of how they work and some of the limitations and how those policies got developed. So, it goes through things like that, and then it also takes it to a very intimate level, and a very relatable level depending on I guess who you are. But my favourite episode so far is called “First Comes Love” and it’s about mixed-race families in Canada. So I really enjoyed this episode because I am from a mixed-race family. I’m a mixed-race child. My dad was white and my mom’s Chinese, so it’s really nice to listen to this kind of stuff and have this be produced because it’s one of those things where you don’t really know or don’t really realize that people don’t talk about these things until you listen to a full-length podcast that is kind of dealing directly with things that you grew up with. So, they took this to a really, really nice level in this episode where they spend a majority of it talking to a Canadian family in Markham, Ontario, which is just outside of Toronto if you’re not familiar with the area. And they spend time talking with them, and talk about, you know, how they raise their kids and the things that they talk to their kids about. And they also talk to a couple, and how race functions within their mixed-race relationship, and things that get brought up in terms of like bringing your partner home to meet members of your family and how there are challenges in that. In terms of maybe your grandparents grew up in a different time period and with a different cultural context. So, talking to them about these issues and bringing home somebody of a different race has different obstacles to navigate and different discussions that happen than maybe your typical white family or your typical family that’s all one race.


Clip from Colour Code


AM: So, I really enjoy this episode for these reasons. And they also talk a lot about the words that people use to talk about race and how their kids talk to their parents about being a mixed race child. This is a really standout episode for me for all of these reasons. And another one is their latest one. So this podcast comes out on Tuesdays, and the one that came out just this past Tuesday is called ‘Too Legit’. And this one really focuses on the way things get classified and the language that we use to talk about these things. So they go through Canada’s history a little bit in terms of slavery, which is interesting because we always think of this in terms of the United States and we never really talk about Canada’s history. They talk about segregated schools in Nova Scotia and how that all plays a role into our historical legacy. And how these false narratives, like what Joseph was talking with campaigns, to the victor go the spoils, how kind of the winners of history write the history books. So by not including this stuff we’re really cutting out a large portion of our history, and not only a negative portion but positive aspects as well. For example, people who fought against racism within Canada aren’t getting the credit or exposure that they maybe should because we’re not talking about it at all. So that’s one thing that they talk about in this episode. But the really fascinating thing that they talk about in this episode is language that different communities use, or different people use, to express their identity or their feelings on race. So terms like micro-aggression or whether or not people are comfortable using terms like person of colour or woman of colour is really interesting to hear the different implications that people attach to these terms and whether or not they’re comfortable applying them to themselves or a group of people.


Clip from Colour Code


AM: And working here, I mean, we’re in communications, so this is obviously something that we care a lot about. And we feel also has a large impact is whether or not you’re using a particular term or whether or not you’re using a particular word and how much that can do to get people to identify with what you’re saying or to relate or connect with something that you’re talking about and how that can be an othering factor as well.


JL: Yeah, I like that point Allie. I mean, the number of times we’re written, you know, talking points, or key messages, and we sit there and we fandangle over a word making sure we’ve captured the right sentiment, that it communicates exactly what we need to. I mean, I remember when I was a political staffer, writing speeches for my boss, sometimes stumbling upon a word that I typed out, and then looking at it on the screen and really wondering whether that word was the most appropriate. One, is it going to convey the right message I want, and two, does it stand the risk of creating a massive headache for my boss; and really speaks to the power of words.  And too often, many of us don’t have to think about the implications of some of the words we use. They become so part of our day to day language we actually don’t understand the historical context for those. And sometimes, when you’re in the business of communicating, you actually have to do that extra bit of homework to make sure you got it right.


AM: Yeah exactly, and in this episode actually, between the interviewer and the woman she’s interviewing, she asks her a question to relate some of her personal experiences. And the person that she’s interviewing is a woman of colour, and she responds saying that she has a problem with the fact that people always ask her in public context to give personal examples of racism and she kind of makes the point that other people don’t have to reveal their personal lives this way on such a regular basis. Like, I’m expected to be so willing to share and that’s a weird expectation of people to have. So it’s interesting just to get those different viewpoints on different lived experiences. Exactly, as communicators we have to put ourselves in other people’s shoes all the time and understand the way the messages and these terms work for them and not just for you. So I really, really like it for that aspect. And another thing I really like about this show, clearly I’m just a big fan as I name one thing after another…


JL: A lot of superlatives I think…




AM: And if I had exclamation points. And so with each episode they also include additional reading. They list articles or further reading that you should do on a specific issue. And I really like that. Because it is a new thing to be kind of talking about so publicly in Canada. And also because I always wonder with these kind of things if they get beyond the audience that is already invested in them. Like talking about race relations in Canada is probably going to attract people who already thinking and reading about race relations in Canada. But if you’re trying to move to a broader audience and people who are listening for educational purposes, then this is a great way to supplement it and be like ok, here are some other resources for you, and maybe a good way to hook people in in the first place.


JL: Right. Yeah, so, since we’re on the topic of race relations, I got another great show for you Allie. This one comes from 538 elections. If you’re not familiar with 538 elections, it is a podcast that a bunch of data heads and polling nerds run. I love it. It’s great for data geeks like us. And while most of their episodes look at how public opinion is shifting and what the polls have to say about the current presidential campaign, every once in a while, they actually produce a special episode that looks at, or reexamines, past political events or campaigns in a way that we might not necessarily have thought about them. And so they did this a couple of months ago in May, the episode they ran on May 26th, it was a behind the scenes analysis of what goes thorough staffers’ minds when a campaign gets blinded sided by a crisis. And they look at how the 2008 Obama campaign got completely sideswiped by his own pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. And anyone who was following the campaign back in 2008 probably remembers this very well. This was a man who had married Obama, had baptized his kids, to whom Obama had dedicated an entire book. And here he was caught in a series of videotapes that ABC News had ran where his pastor is saying some of the most anti-American statements possible. Not the kind of thing you want a presidential candidate associated with. But it brought to the fore, and to the front of the discussion, the whole issue of race relations. And in fact, in a way, I think that continues to dominate the current cycle some 8 years later. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Why don’t I play for you this first clip?


Clip from 538 Elections


JL: Yeah, I especially like this episode because it provides two important lessons in my view. Number one, how to do good crisis communications. And number two, how in the heat of a moment, we have a tendency to think that the world is falling apart when it might not necessarily be doing so. We know from personal experience, when we’re handed a crisis our natural instinct tells us to go hide, run away, don’t admit your mistakes, throw people under the bus if you have to, and whatever you do, present a strong, decisive image. But those instincts usually make matters worse for you. And this was a pretty bad crisis for Obama at the time. I remember this crystal clear. I just had no idea how he was going to come out of this. I remember when they announced that Obama would be speaking about this in his speech, tuning in to that speech was like tuning into the Super Bowl or NFL Primetime. As someone who does communications, I was curious how the heck he was going to come out of this one. And from a crisis management standpoint, it was absolutely brilliant.


Clip from 538 Elections


JL: So by any objective measure, love him or hate him, his response in my view was pitch perfect. He was able to denounce Reverend Wright’s comments without actually disowning the man, which is a pretty suave move, and that is a pretty difficult thing to pull off when you’re in a crisis communications mode. But as you hear could hear, Allie, through the voices of his staffers, at the time they felt like Reverend Wright’s comments had the potential to completely kill the campaign, and we all felt that way as outside observers. But what this particular episode does a very good job at, the entire second half of the episode, 538 actually analyzes whether the campaign was in jeopardy in the middle of this crisis and it uses public polling data and whole bunch of other polling points to actually determine or analyze the degree to which this speech, and this issue had an impact on final vote. And I’m not going to spoil it for you – you’ll want to tune in to that episode specifically, but it makes for a pretty fascinating listen.


AM: I like this episode, aside from those points because I, this is as you said a great speech, and they talk about how that speech got written. So as much as we’re anything else here, we also write a lot and writers love listening to how other people write. So they talk about kind of, very briefly, which parts of the speech his speech writer contributed and which parts came from Obama himself and I really, really like that about this episode.


Outro by Allie