Campaigning with Joe and Maureen

I was recently interviewed by Matthew Hayday, an historian at the University of Guelph who is writing a biography of Joe Clark, Canada’s sixteenth prime minister. My then wife (Carole Uhlaner, now an emerita professor of political science at the University of California at Irvine) and I were deeply involved doing policy work and speech writing in his campaign for the Progressive Conservative Party leadership in 1976. Preparing for the interview took me back to the documents Carole I had saved from that episode. I intend to write several posts about my experience. The first is a piece I wrote about campaigning with Joe and his wife Maureen McTeer that was published in the Clark campaign’s convention newspaper on February 21, the day before he was elected leader. Rather than scanning it, I’ll make it more accessible by re-typing it.

Joe’s Campaign was All His [their headline]

My wife and I became involved in Joe’s campaign in the role of briefers on policy issues, preparers of policy papers, and drafters of speeches. As we did more and more work on the literary aspect of the campaign, we both – I as an observer and she as a student of political science – became more interested in the other side of the campaign.

My interest in the physical activities of campaigning was stimulated for another reason. I have followed recent literature and movies on campaigning, and one message seems to be emerging from it. Candidates, like movie stars, are presented as products, not people. [I was influenced by the iconic 1972 movie starring Robert Redford, The Candidate.]

Unreal World [also their heading]

Their lines are written by consultants, and then watered down by admen. Their schedules are prepared long in advance. Their way is cleared and their needs provided for by advance men. They float through an unreal world of handshakes, conversations that never get past “Hello,” and cliched speeches. If the product can be sold, they are in power.

To contrast a campaign with an image, we asked to accompany Joe and Maureen on a weekend of campaigning in the Maritimes: Friday and Saturday at the Nova Scotia PC Association convention in Halifax, Sunday meeting delegates on the North Shore of New Brunswick, Sunday evening at an all-candidates’ meeting in Charlottetown, and Monday in St. John’s.

Our interest was not just journalistic – in addition, we planned to review with Joe the comprehensive policy papers that we and others had drafted.

Joe’s Campaign [their heading]

The first thing that is clear is that this is very much Joe’s campaign. There are no advance men, no valets, and no army of assistants continually travelling with Joe. [The campaign couldn’t have afforded it.] Joe and Maureen are involved in every phase of the campaign.

Before each stop when visiting New Brunswick delegates Joe and Maureen were looking through the delegate list, along with local supporters, going over who these people were, and where their loyalties were thought to lie. Maureen is not the traditional “candidate’s wife.” She goes out to buttonhole candidates herself, she is continually passing suggestions along to campaign headquarters, and she is thinking about all phases of the campaign and the convention.

The second inescapable conclusion is that the pace of the campaign is frantic. Joe was occupied almost every moment from dawn to midnight. When he wasn’t giving speeches to large groups, he was speaking to small groups. When not occupied with small groups, he was meeting individual delegates. When he was travelling, he was usually preparing for the next round of delegate meetings.

The pace is relentless. Joe was at an all-candidates’ meeting Saturday night tell ten. He then spent another hour meeting delegates. At eleven, we met with all his committed Halifax supporters to assess how much support we gained during the weekend. Joe and Maureen then returned to their room. Since midnight in Halifax is 11 p.m. in Ottawa, there was time for a one-hour call to campaign headquarters.

The dedication and concern that Joe gave to editing the policy papers we had drafted was painstaking, and truly impressive. During the weekend, we went through 8000 words of draft, word-by-word. Joe did the editing in short snatches, half-an-hour at a time on some flights. He went over every draft, adding paragraphs in many places, and even going so far as to improve sentence structure, to ensure that every position was expressed in his idiom. Delegates should rest assured: every word that goes out under Joe’s name he has seen – and expressed in his own way.

The glue that holds this campaign together is the incredible energy of both Joe and Maureen. They can cheerfully get by on little sleep, eating sandwiches for days on end, meeting people and making speeches. They have, on occasion, been renting small airplanes, and those planes are unheated and very, very uncomfortable on winter evenings in North Battleford, Saskatchewan or Charlo, New Brunswick. Yet this is the only possible way to meet delegates. And that is what the campaign is all about.

What is impressive about Joe as a campaigner is that, in every speech, he weaves his basic themes in slightly different ways, draws upon a different story from his two decades of political experience and answers – honestly and forthrightly – the various questions thrown at him. He springs up to the podium and lets fly with powerful, vigorous, and articulate expressions of his views and his positions.

I came away form the weekend thinking of them not as “the candidate” and “the candidate’s wife” but as Joe and Maureen, two energetic, persuasive, and articulate friends who are hard at work trying to make the country the sort of place they believe it should be.

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