WASHINGTON, November 25, 2016 — Politics is a difficult and contentious profession that comes with the risk of personal destruction of the practitioner. It demands experience, strategic thinking, shrewdness and tact, along with an intuitive understanding of mass psychology, diplomacy and hard bargaining.
Not all genuine leaders become politicians, but the 21st century electorate knows who the true leaders really are. They also recognize the posers.
Here are some strategies that could help politicians gain success and not be lost in the political wilderness.
Strategy One: Do what you promise. The most common complaint against politicians is that they lie, especially on the campaign trail. They ignore their constituents once in office. They fail to appreciate those who put them in office. Effective leaders are leader able to deliver promises and act on their stated principles. This is part of what leads to being respected and supported by their constituents.
Strategy Two: See the big picture. You might represent the people of Peoria, but your oath is to the Constitution and the country. When they do remember their constituents, politicians often focus on the local and bring home the pork.
Growth and development don’t rest just on local conditions, but on national economic health. One reason that many countries of the developing world have lopsided development is that their leaders are parochial, valuing tribe, clan or party above country.
If a part of the country is failing, the rest will eventually have to confront that failure.
Strategy Three: Political power must be exercised and shared, not hoarded or concentrated. Power corrupts, and absolute, concentrated power corrupts absolutely. For the health of the country, power must be distributed and shared with the political opposition. This will help curb corruption and improve policy.
Our system of checks-and-balances is crucial, and it works only when every branch exercises its powers and prerogatives. The decision-making process must be collaborative, or policies will be rejected by large parts of the electorate and the legitimacy of the political process called into doubt.
Strategy Four: Issues are more important than individuals. Politicians waste time and political capital on non-issues, personal attacks, and tactical maneuvering for advantage. For many politicians, urgent affairs of state are less important than personal vendettas and guilt-fixing.
The advancement of national interests is a frequent casualty in the quest for political power and advantage. Principles are sacrificed to ambition. At this point politics is just a game, not a means to serve the nation.
Strategy Five: Country before self and party. Many politicians put party above everything. When candidates are asked whether they will support the party’s eventual nominee, no matter who that is, the implicit question is, “will you put your party above country?”
The assumption is that politicians should be parochial. The party must get power, regardless of who will wield that power or what he will do with it. Winning is more important than ideologies, principles or goals. Politicians who ascribe to this brand of politics may get power, but they will never be leaders or make a difference.
Strategy Six: Political policies should be people-oriented, transparent and open to public scrutiny. One key to political success is awareness that success lies in how policy affects people.
Political success doesn’t lie in getting programs passed or funded; it lies in meeting the needs of the people.
Strategy Seven: Reputation is built over a lifetime; it is lost in an instant. Friends and networks are built over a lifetime; enemies are gained in an instant.
Build good relations in order to build and exercise influence. The strongest relations are built on trust and integrity. You might get things done faster by employing fear and intimidation, but your enemies will undercut and destroy your work faster than you built it.
Strategy Eight: Strategies are useless unless translated into practice.
Politics is a brutal and unforgiving business in which good is often rewarded with evil and personalities are more important than national interests. Sacrifice and dedication are mandatory offsets to the ego-driven business of politics.
Short-term sacrifices do pave the way for long-term success, but success is never guaranteed. Ultimately, the service must be its own reward.