By AMELIA MORRISON HIPPS
Writing about politics roughly two months before the column is to be published is tough. Issues that are hot today have either been shoved aside, moved to the bottom of the priority list, killed, or hopefully, solved. That’s why this column version of Down Home Politics deals with issues in a broader context, while the blog at www.wilsonlivingmagazine.com deals with those more timely issues. So be sure and check it out each week.
So what’s the topic this issue? It’s the failure of politicians to be effective in their jobs, and it’s been happening for the last several years all the way up the political ladder – from cities to counties to states to the nation.
But, there is an answer, something I call The Three Cs of Politics: Communication, Compromise and Clarification = Effectiveness. Just as a diamond’s four Cs – clarity, cut, color and carat weight – determine its worth, so can The Three Cs of Politics determine the effectiveness of a politician.
The first C is Communication, and this is one is critical. An effective politician must be able to communicate his message clearly and precisely to all parties – constituents, other office holders, staff and the media. He must be able to express himself in such a way that the message remains consistent no matter who he is talking to and how little time he may have. In other words, he needs to have an elevator pitch that is as effective in 2 minutes as an hour-long presentation complete with charts and graphs.
In addition, the communication cannot be all passion; it must have facts and/or figures to back the message. Passionate pleas have their place, but they are much more effective when backed by hard proof.
For example, if a government entity needs to raise revenue through an increase in taxes or fees, the members of that body had better have a solid plan in place as to how that money will be spent and why it is critical that the tax or fee be raised.
By the same token, those who oppose tax increases or fees need to have evidence to back their claim that the additional increase is not needed and why. He had better be prepared to show precisely where he could do a better job with the funds at hand than by raising taxes or fees.
Being able to offer specifics – not generalities – is a critical for any politician, which is why many of them fail to be effective once in office. During the campaign, they present beautiful pictures with their words, and they often get elected. But once they are in office, and they need to know how to paint that picture, many couldn’t if their lives depended on it.
The other critical aspect of communication is to not surprise anyone. To be effective, especially once a person is in office, he needs to communicate his initiatives, visions and plans with every single stakeholder as soon as possible.
There’s an old saying, “Never surprise your boss.” Well, that same philosophy can be said about politicians. They should never surprise their constituents, other office holders or staff. Doing so is asking for failure.
Which leads us to the second C of Politics – Compromise. Today, more and more politicians appear to think that compromise is a bad word. They think that if they give a little, they will somehow dilute their power, or the other side will want to take that inch and stretch it into a mile. I contend that neither are true and that the lack of compromise is what is causing the current stalemate in our nation’s capital. I also believe it’s the cause of the growing division between the two parties, as well as the fragmentation inside them, in Washington, in Nashville, and even in local government bodies.
Personally, I’m tired of watching one side or the other dig their heels in and refuse to budge – often times simply because they hold the majority of votes and know they don’t need the other side to pass whatever initiatives they may have. Just because one party or another holds the power by being the majority doesn’t mean they always have to use that power. Sometimes having the power doesn’t mean using it as a sledgehammer just because you can. Sometimes it means truly listening to the other side and compromising for the good of the people who elected you.
Which brings us to the last C – Clarification. After applying the first two Cs – communication and compromise – a politician had better be able to explain or clearly justify his position.
Throughout the years, voters have shown they have no problem with politicians who either stand their ground or who change positions on an issue – as long as they explain the reasoning behind it. As long as a politician can explain the “why” behind their decisions – which is more often than not the most important W in the five Ws of who, what, when, where and why – then the voters will view him or her as being effective, and that’s what we want and need from our elected officials.
A politician who is effective is one who can make us understand his ideas, produce results, and explain why his actions best represent us. And isn’t this what we want from those we elect to office?
Amelia Morrison Hipps is a local freelance writer and political consultant. She may be reached at (615) 442-8667 or via email at amhipps@ downhomepolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @DwnHomePolitics.
Be sure to read her weekly political blogs at www.wilsonlivingmagazinecom.