Politics: Risky business

'The Post' presents the top five good gambles and bungled bets that the politicians and strategists will be talking about this weekend.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
February 12, 2009 20:31
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It's now three days after the election with the strangest ending in the country's history, and perhaps one of the oddest-ever culminations to a political race anywhere in the world. Just hours after the political satire show Eretz Nehederet broadcast Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni delivering simultaneous victory speeches side by side, Netanyahu and Livni both announced victory before adoring crowds, albeit 45 minutes apart, and a few kilometers away from each other. The politicians and strategists have spent the last two days recovering from lost sleep, thanking their campaign teams and trying to create facts on the ground before negotiations on forming a new government officially begin. Only this weekend will they really begin looking backward and determining what went wrong - and right - during the 15-week campaign. The strategists here, pessimists that they are, call this process a "post mortem." In the US, looking back at campaign mistakes is referred to as "playing Monday morning quarterback," an expression that came from the conversations around water coolers at work places across America on the day after National Football League games. The following is our way of playing Friday morning quarterback. Good Gambles

  • Bibi vs. Tzipi: Kadima's strategy for the final week of the campaign succeeded in winning over enough votes from Labor and Meretz to gain one more seat than Likud, as confirmed by the final results on Thursday evening, after soldiers', prisoners' and hospitalized patients' votes were counted. Kadima's ads emphasized that voters who did not want Bibi had to cast a ballot for Tzipi in order to stop him. Critics charged that pilfering votes from inside their camp was ineffective in a race decided by which side obtained the largest bloc. But the Left bloc had no chance of beating the Right anyway, so winning one more seat than Likud was the only way for Livni to justify claiming that she had won the race. The Likud used a similar strategy at the end of its campaign and failed.
  • Loyal Soldier in the Opposition: The Likud's support in the polls peaked during and immediately after Operation Cast Lead, due in part to Netanyahu's behavior. He suspended his party's negative campaign against Livni that had been introduced just 48 hours before the war began, and despite being the opposition leader, drafted himself to the government's international public relations effort in a war led by his two rivals for the premiership. This gave him good press during a time when he would have otherwise been irrelevant. It made him look professional and patriotic, and it elevated him above the political fray.
  • Hawking Hatred: If you have a candidate who is viewed as an extremist and is compared to fascists around the world, conventional wisdom would dictate that you moderate his messages. But strategist George Birnbaum did the opposite with his "No loyalty, no citizenship" campaign. Avigdor Lieberman captured the public frustration that had been growing over many years, and intensified during the war, and he became the voice for change. Birnbaum also had success with doing the opposite of what made sense in 2006, when he sold Israel Beiteinu to sabra voters, using the slogan "nyet, nyet, da."
  • Ugly Uri: Habayit Hayehudi made it into the Knesset, despite a name change from the National Religious Party, the defection of its right flank to the reconstituted National Union and a war-shortened campaign thanks to one man, former journalist Uri Orbach. The party's strategists were wise to focus on the well-known if not exactly pretty face of their No. 3 candidate, because their No. 1, Prof. Daniel Herskovitz, was unmarketable and their No. 2, MK Zevulun Orlev, provoked animosity. If Habayit Hayehudi joins the government, it should let Orbach become a minister.
  • Green Movement/Meimad: You're probably reading this and assuming it's a misprint. Why is a party that failed to pass the electoral threshold listed among good gambles? Because it finished 13th in the race against all odds - tops among 21 parties that didn't make it into the Knesset. With 26,000 votes, it easily defeated the veteran Green Party, which won only 10,700. Had the race been longer, and had there been no war, this "everything but security" party would have made it into the Knesset. Only one green party should be allowed to run next time, and this is the one. Bungled Bets
  • Counterfeit Candidate: Labor's campaign shifted between presenting party chairman Ehud Barak as a candidate for prime minister and for defense minister. Now that the results are known, and Labor ended up with only 13 seats, the attempt at casting him as a prime ministerial candidate looks downright delusional. The polls said people wanted Barak as defense minister, so they should have let him tell the truth, as he did the day before the election, when he said that if Labor did not get enough seats, he would have to go into the opposition. Had he said that sooner, he might not have had to leave his beloved ministry.
  • Hatnua Hahadasha: Meretz has been blaming Livni for its dismal showing, but it can only blame itself. Had it run more attractive candidates and had an agenda more in tune with the public's mood, it would have undoubtedly done better. Its slogan, "We don't compromise," made no sense for the farthest-left Zionist party. It pretended to merge with an unimaginatively named new movement called Hatnua Hahadasha (the New Movement), which never really existed. Had Hatnua Hahadasha founder Amos Oz been willing to run for Knesset at the head of the list, it could have been a success story.
  • Disregarding Deri: Shas chairman Eli Yishai had an unquestionable asset at his disposal in his predecessor, Arye Deri, and didn't take advantage of him. Deri will be legally permitted to reenter politics in the summer, and it is understandable that Yishai considers him a threat, but had he set his fears aside and used Deri in Shas's campaign commercials, the party could have kept anti-establishment voters it lost to Israel Beiteinu. Shas did not change its party list and added no star-power, perhaps because it was afraid that the real star it had would shine too brightly.
  • Wrestling with Reicher: Gil Pensioners Party leader Rafi Eitan was smart to remove the squabbling septuagenarians who embarrassed the party from his candidate list. But the replacement - charismatic journalist Gideon Reicher - was doomed to fail. In fact, this party had fallen so far, that adding David Ben-Gurion and Moses to its slate wouldn't have worked. Instead of running again, Eitan should have just quit when he was ahead, and left to enjoy his retirement.
  • Crocheted Kippot Unraveled: This election proved, as others have before, that there is only room for one religious-Zionist party. The factions inside religious Zionism tried to unite with Habayit Hayehudi, but politicians who broke off out of their own self interest sabotaged a smart move. If Holocaust survivors and marijuana smokers can coexist in one party in harmony, then so can settlers and city-dwellers, Kahanists and kippa-wearing doves. Next time religious-Zionists try to unite, perhaps the Green Leaf Graduates can sell them something to help them all just get along.

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