politics as usual

Politics as Usual

In open politics the page politics as usual serves two functions:
  • a primer on how to do politics as it is today (and perhaps always was)
  • identifying possibilities for reform (in the hope that it will not always be)

The counterpart to politics as usual is civics as usual which details how to be effective (or destructive) as a citizen.

General Principles of Politics as Usual

It used to be said that the moral arc of a political career could be divided into four parts: idealism, pragmatism, ambition, and corruption.
  1. You arrive with a passion for a cause, determined to challenge the system.
  2. Then you learn to work for your cause within the system.
  3. Then you learn that your rising in the system benefits your cause and yourself.
  4. Then finally you exploit the system — your connections, and your understanding of it - because you've worked hard to get where you are and you deserve it.

The article on power politics explains the more darwinistic aspects of politics that prevail within most political parties and institutions.

The article on popularity contest explains the requirements for success in a representative democracy. the psychology of politics as usual looks at takes us out of the 2nd-person narrative and looks closely at the motivations of political actor.

How to Succeed in Politics as Usual

Getting to know people.

Unless you are already rich or famous, getting involved in a political organization is the first step to becoming a politician. There are two keys to success at this stage
  • volunteer - volunteer to support powerful people in the party, practice loyalty and declare allegiance.
  • be cheerful - getting to know people is no time to be a critic.
  • become essential - being instrumental to the success of senior members in the organization is key to opening doors and getting your first patronage appointments or support to gain internal offices.

Winning the local nomination:

From here on in you need more and more of two things: money and followers. If you don't have at least half a dozen reliable people who are willing to do stuff for you for free, you aren't ready for this step.
  1. throw at least one party for your local organization and float the idea of seeking the nomination. If 50 people drinking your booze for free are not ready to support you, forget about it. If less than 50 people show up, forget about it.
  2. get your followers (not yourself) to call every local member of the organization and raise some funds for the local association. (not for your campaign). If you don't have any supporters who can raise funds and organize a fund-raising drive, forget about it.
  3. have friends in the local executive. If the local party executive is not already friendly to you (iow: they didn't invite you to run) forget about it until the next elections for local executives and install your friends on the exec.
  4. Ask the entire local membership to support you before you decide to run. Make them part of the decision. If there are more than a thousand, call at least a thousand personally. Get used to using the phone - a lot.
  5. Assign and stress test your campaign team. Choose the best campaign team (at least six people) and advise them before deciding that they are expected to perform under pressure, and that you are going to need to test them before you can trust them. If you haven't already witnessed any of your campaign team exhibiting performance under pressure and making sacrifices for you they can't be trusted.
  6. Make plans for your campaign team. Decide in advance who is going to get whatever plum jobs or offices you will have control of after you win. Make it explicit and keep your promises. Let them know what they are working for.

The Campaign

''The victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.
- Sun Tzu - ''

To win a campaign requires the following (in order of importance)

1. Representing the right party.
Canadian research suggests that the local candidate was a decisive consideration for only 5 per cent of Canadian voters (6 per cent outside Quebec and 2 per cent in Quebec). This means that to win, at least 90% of your support must come in the form of party support, which means - yes you are just a cog in a machine.
2. Tactical superiority.
The only way to lose if you are representing the right party is to get out-hustled and out worked by the second best party. If you don't have an equal number of volunteers and money, you can lose the sign war and the get-out the vote contest for lack of manpower.
3. Staying on message.
As you go from door to door and interview to interview, you need to regurgitate the pre-planned script. It will bore you silly to hear yourself say the same thing a five hundred times.
4. Avoiding all debate.
Under no circumstances does a politician discus policy issues in a serious or informative way during a campaign. The shift in tone into "campaign mode" signals that members of the opposition are expected to suspend all constructive criticism and commence denouncing the current government (if they ever stopped from the last campaign). For the ruling party, it signals that one is no longer to admit any kind of fallibility, nor to offer compromises.

The Message war
To win an election, a traditional political leader supposedly tries to find the rhetoric which is most likely to snare the attention of the marginal voter, and hopefully incite the desired emotional response among those voters to respond to a carefully framed ballot box question.
Each platform plank should be designed to be the most important issue for a specific demographic. Attack your opponents message by devising a wedge issue which will divide a demographic that normally supports your opponent against itself, and try to force your opponent to take a stand.

Fear and Anger vs. Hope

Since it is historically easier to arouse anger and fear in the electorate, rather than build hope, campaigns are generally won by arousing anger against something but this tactic tends to create little in the way of long term respect for politicians. For instance, during an election, ones' opponents will be described in only the worst terms, which aren't expected to be taken seriously beyond the election campaign.

The end of all constructive debate.

Representing your constituents.

Representing your constituents on political issues is not particularly important, but delivering pork, and cutting red tape for individuals is likely to add to your list of followers and supporters.
  • let it be known locally that you have an enemies list, to ensure that your constituents know that not being your friend could have unforeseen consequences.
  • play favorites, make arbitrary decisions in favor of those who have supported you, and resist establishing any oversight or rules which would limit your power.

Being a good backbench MP.

see: Getting to know people, except now you are at a new level of play.

Getting into Cabinet

Winning the leadership

To win the leadership of a traditional power-seeking political party, one must build a power network of alliances. Not everyone is cut out to be a leader. To test whether you are a leader or not, throw a party for all the highest level party functionaries who will come and float the idea of a leadership run. As before, if people drinking your booze for free aren't all eager supporters, forget about it. A leadership run usually commits the new leader to making a series of patronage appointments, political favoritism of specific regions or industries, nepotism, and probably some form or kickbacks (legal or otherwise) for their most loyal supporters or key "ward-heelers".

Getting a senate seat.

Promises, promises

Platforms and policies are considered "promises", important only as the means to power, and are usually crafted in a way to be vague enough to disregard entirely after the election. By developing friendly relations with pundits and journalists (frequently bartering favorable articles for inside access) they can often evade scrutiny. Accountable and transparent government need never be delivered, since, there is no visible player adding up the scorecard, since doing so would lose them this access.

Alternatives? to Politics as Usual

In defense of politics

Argument: history continues

From the first stirrings of democracy in the Athenian Forum to the Roman Mob to the French Revolution to today, the figures "at the bottom" have always challenged those "on top" by a variety of means which include and require them to gain the attention of the public, and embarrass their rulers. If embarrassment fails, the only option was and is civil war and revolution, which in a democracy occurs via elections. Any improvement over a shooting war, such as the simulated street fight that we call first past the post, is to be lauded, as those who vote and run for office are actually capable of no "higher" behavior and will always "fall back to" the level of mob rule when challenged strongly enough.

Argument: about right-wing politics

Modern right-wing politics does indeed to mirror this view, often attributed to Hobbes, that "the world is a harsh place, and islands of civility are rare", and where only ethical tradition and religion saves humanity itself from chaos.

Position: Adopt postmodern politics

Moral relativism has become the only way to rule the secular post-Christian democracy: human rights and womens rights are effective ways to guarantee access to the political system, which has evolved somewhat over the street fight in that women can actually be involved with little risk of physical harm, at least in developed nations.

There is no way to resolve disputes other than to defer to an authority which attempts to implement some social protocol or process. When backed by an institution it is an organization protocol, and when backed by violence it is law. Given that, the political virtues and a collaboration ethic are the only way forward to find an effective balance between social networks in forming a power network

Argument: about globalization

In a world composed of so many traditions, any use of one tradition over others becomes racist. Only artificial generic traditions such as the UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights or the UN Millennium Declaration can possibly serve as a secular substitute for religious moral codes.

Position: Adopt feminist democratic structuring

Men wrote the existing traditions. The new ones arise in an era when women could at least vote. That makes them better by definition than what was done in Athens, Rome, or in the American Revolution. Theories of democratic structuring and equal power relationships arose from the mature feminist movements of the first generation of women comfortable exercising political power as full persons. These theories are the way forward for politics.

Argument: about left-wing politics

Most left-wing parties seem now to respect diversity as a basic value. Even principles like a basic income to enable people of no means at all to participate in society (including politics) seem to have caught on with "the left" - forming the basis of the so-called welfare state.

Argument: about green politics

The inclusion of social justice and nonviolence or peacemaking on the list of basic values of all Green Parties worldwide suggests that some form of protection of each individual is thought to be pre-requisite or co-incident with protection of ecosystems or democracy itself.

Argument: about cognitive politics

Leadership continues to matter, and deep framing of the rhetoric actually changes the society itself by changing its collective intelligence and means of persuasion. Over time some metaphors become accepted and others fail, and this evolution is a collective moral cognition.

Argument: about moral politics in the community

George Lakoff's theory of moral politics and Jane Jacobs' notion of moral syndromes suggests that both the traditional and "postmodern" approaches will continue to coexist. They will however be resolved as Crick thought by a community, as per the model of Paul Adler and others who study the sociology of power networks:
  • unlike the traditional view, the resolution is not always based on who has the most force or supporters on hand but perhaps on who can be shamed into taking no action against those they oppose - this as per the view of Gandhi
  • unlike the postmodern view, there is a single common view of what constitutes appropriate or moral activity, it is simply implicit and can only be detected by seeing what limits the community will respect, and when it practices social exclusion, e.g. uses disapproval votes

Each developed nation has its own breed of politics as usual. See Canadian politics as usual and American politics as usual for more specific phrases used to describe aspects of the above.

Canadian politics as usual, American politics as usual, Efficient Politics, political virtues, political philosophy, idealism reform