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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Friday 9 May 2014

Winning vs. Accomplishing in Politics

It's counter-intuitive, I know, in a competitive industry like politics.  Support something your opponents can claim as a win?  Terrible idea.  Allow an opponent to take credit for your idea and benefit from the praise?  How self-destructive is that?

Politics is about winning and winning is about beating your opponents, full stop.  As the saying goes, you can accomplish great things in politics, but only when you're in power.  It's better to stand against something you believe in if it means denying your opponents a victory; after all, you can just implement the same policy when you're in power and get the credit for it.

Even if that means standing in the way of good policy for your constituents.

If your job is to represent and promote the best interests of constituents, though, isn't it counter-intuitive to stand in the way of what's going to improve their lives?

Such is the cognitive dissonance of Party Politics; winning politically on the macro level now trumps individual responsibility on the elected official level.  The losers in this bid to win, sadly, are the people.

It doesn't have to be this way.

Some words of advice I once received from what you may consider a surprising source - "our job is to serve the client's interest.  Sometimes that means helping your enemy bet a win.  Just remember who your priority is."

Wise words, those, ones I've taken to heart.  They came from Leslie Noble.

Leslie, in addition to being one of Tim Hudak's advisers, is a very successful government relations consultant.  Clients love her because she's good at pushing their issues forward.  She doesn't do it by attacking and bullying her targeted politicians, as some lobbyists do - instead, she identifies what a given audience's priorities are and designs solutions that are made up of little wins for everyone across the board.

Granted, she's not running for office - but why would she need to?  She accomplishes her objectives - scores wins for her clients, if you will - perfectly well from the outside.

You'd be surprised (or maybe not so much nowadays) how much our political agenda is shaped by people who aren't in political office.  They have identified the end-goals of politicians and Parties - to win - and have learned how to nudge them in certain directions with the trade off being of helping them win.

Is it diabolical?  No - it's strategic.  It also happens to be short-sighted.

Winning, you see, implies an end-game; a zero-sum situation where one party walks away the winner and the other is the loser.  This doesn't happen in politics, because there's always another election, always an opposition (unless you have a one-party system, which I don't think anyone is in favour of).  

The more combative you are this time around, the more combative they are going to be next time around, leading to an escalation not of evidence-based debate, but heated rhetoric and personal attacks.  
Kind of like we're seeing now.  

What happens in this scenario, of course, is the system loses - citizens get tired of the choices available to them, realize just how much the system is being gamed and tune out.  Eventually, they will fight back.

It's the same thing with those private, vested interests manipulating the politicians to deliver individual wins that put money in their pockets - by narrowing policy focus to a thin wedge of issues and disregarding/demonizing all others, imbalances occur.  

Take the Oil Industry, for example.  They're wealthy, influential and have a very narrow mandate - to make more money by extracting and selling more oil.  What happens if oil extraction is environmentally damaging?  Not their issue - stamp it out.  What happens if the available oil sources dry up or are impossible to extract?  Not something they want to consider - bury the issue.  

And what is policy designed to support the oil industry exclusively results in a dearth of social capacity for anything else, like advanced manufacturing, clean/green energy tech, so on and so forth?  If oil's your thing, you don't care - like playing the stock market, you maximize your winnings and then cash out.  What happens after is someone else's problem.

But balancing problems, weighing consequences and devising forward-thinking policy is the job of our politicians.  When they're focused on power grabs and beholden to wealth-generating industries, you can see how cracks start to appear in the system.

Kinda like we have right now.

So, where do we go from here?  Is it possible to disrupt the influence of special interest groups like Oil on Political Parties?  Can we disrupt the influence Partisan interests has on narrowing the policy discussion?

We certainly can.  In fact, it's already happening.  

The reason we don't have big names or nascent interest groups crying out for public attention around things like #OpenGov and #OpenData is because they aren't interested in winning - just accomplishing.

We're going to hit a tipping point in the very near future where smart, self-interested people are going to see the massive opportunities for wealth and power that are available through the Open Movement.  

That's when you'll start hearing about what's already begun.  When the selfish start promoting altruistic, informed and lateral participation, that's when we all win.

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