Political Pros Should Play it Cool

Maybe it’s human nature or maybe it’s just the nature of those humans who engage in politics, but for whatever reason democratic debate has always overflowed with red hot emotion.

In the heat of political combat, coolly rational voices just have a hard time getting a word in edgewise.

Indeed, emotional appeals designed to pluck at our heartstrings or to kindle the flames outrage or to scare the bejeebers out of us, pop up everywhere in politics, saturating social media, mainstream media, and just about any other kind of media you can think of.

And for good reason: strong emotions – both positive and negative — motivate voters, convert people to causes and win elections.

Yet, not everyone involved in politics should get emotional.

In fact, the one group of people who must consciously avoid getting all hot and bothered, are political professionals — the men and women who work behind the scenes to make politicians look and sound good.

Such professionals must always maintain a dispassionate practicality.

Or to put it another way, professionals must understand and appreciate the power of emotion in politics, without ever succumbing to it themselves.

To succeed in the business of politics, to effectively sway public opinion, to have the best chance of winning, professionals must keep cool and rational.

They must embrace their inner cynic.

And if you think “cynic” is too negative a word, if it conjures up images of Machiavelli or of consultants practicing manipulative “dark arts”, then feel free to replace it with the less threatening term “realist.”

Anyway, a cynic or a realist, in my view, is a person who won’t allow prejudices or ideological attachments or sentimental feelings to influence their tactics and decisions.

A realist, in other words, bases strategic decisions on coldly calculated rational analysis.

For instance, if a rational analysis indicates a political candidate’s most prized ideological position isn’t winning over voters, then a realist will recommend dropping or modifying that position and emphasizing some other policy that polls better.

Likewise, if a rational analysis indicates an election can be won by running a negative media ad campaign viciously attacking a political opponent’s mother, then yup, a realist will recommend doing that too.

It’s not personal, it’s just business.

At any rate, the reason I’m bringing all this up is I’m a little perplexed and dismayed at how certain Canadian political professionals have seemingly put their realist side on hold and allowed their emotions to get the better of them.

What I mean is, I’ve observed professionals go onto social media outlets like Twitter to either attack other political professionals or to engage in heated debates with the media.

Now maybe I’m a little bit old fashioned, but to my mind that’s poor form.

In the first place, there should be a code of honour, whereby you respect others in your discipline. And secondly, it doesn’t really make much sense to attack a colleague who might one day be on your side.

After all, due to the ever shifting nature of political circumstances, today’s enemy could be tomorrow’s ally.

So why poison any wells?

And finally, whenever a strategist or consultant or advisor vents his or her emotions in a public forum it can often reflect badly on their employer.

That’s a definite no no.

I’ve known political consultants who have damaged their careers by making ill-considered comments to the media.

So in my ideal world, strategists and consultants and political staff, would refrain from public spats; they would refrain from making themselves the centre of attention.

“Behind the scenes” people, should remain behind the scenes.

(This column originally appeared in the Ottawa Hill Times.)

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