Friday, September 6, 2013

The Alternate Reality of Politicians

Divide and rule, the politician cries; unite and lead, is watchword of the wise. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

A hypocrite is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation. - Adlai E. Stevenson

I have always been fascinated by the alternate reality that politicians live in.

Take for example, The Minister of Municipal Affairs in Alberta, the Honorable Doug Griffiths.

When asked to comment on Opposition Leader Danielle Smith’s plans to hold a town hall to once again express anger over the RCMP and their seizure of weapons in flood-ravaged High River, Alberta, he made an interesting faux pas when he said:

“I am sick and tired of people like her going around trying to blame people when we’re still trying to rebuild the community. It’s fucking embarrassing.”

One of the rules of politics (and business) is that you never let your opponent see you sweat.  As the Opposition Leader, Ms. Smith is paid to represent her constituents, lead her party AND get under the skin of the government.

When a member of the government drops the f-bomb as a result of her actions, the Opposition Leader can only think “mission accomplished – what else can I do to to continue this momentum?”

In addition, in the business world, such words issued against a colleague would immediately motivate HR to investigate – requiring an apology at best or other disciplinary action, including termination.

This rarely happens in the political world.  Even when an Alberta member of government was found to be using his government influence for the benefit of his own company, he was found to be guilty of unethical behavior but not illegal.

I guess it comes down to realities and rationalization. :-(

And finally, we are always loudly trumpeting anti bullying / anti intimidation legislation, especially legislation designed to create a better world for children.

But it doesn’t matter how much legislation we pass to encourage people to treat others with respect.

People model what they see

Unfortunately, politicians can pass legislation that promotes one idea while living another and not see the difference between them.

Meanwhile in High River …..

Ms. Smith held another town hall in High River where angry residents had another opportunity to vent the anger they have vented repeatedly, the only difference being that this time, they had an opportunity to vent it towards representatives of the RCMP.

The reasons for their anger have been documented and expressed many times since June so I’m not certain that another round of yelling and screaming “moves the ball”.

In the real world, upon first capturing the essence of a problem, a problem solver says “I hear you loud and clear.  I will do what it takes to get this resolved and will report periodically on progress or ask for your opinion should we reach a point where decisions needs to be made”.

But in the political world, while Ms. Smith may have taken some actions on behalf of her constituents, she is still focused on the importance of whipping up anger.

The time for anger has passed.

What matters now is focus on execution and results that benefit the people of High River.

Continued anger and outrage in lieu of results only benefits the politician who encourages it.

In the real world, anyone who has their marching orders but continues to convene meetings to revisit their marching orders will cause people to think:

  • Did this person not hear us the first time?
  • Does this person not know how to solve this problem?
  • We have already expressed our anger over this – why does this person want us to keep revisiting our anger instead of solving the problem?
  • Why are we wasting our time rehashing everything we already know?
  • If we meet enough times, maybe we need to turn our attention to the person who keeps reconvening us.

But this is not the real world.

This is politics, where anger and obfuscation are often more useful than results, as I posited here - Anger: Setting Yourself Up For Manipulation.

Ms. Smith knows what the issues are, she knows the anger that is simmering amongst the citizens and she knows what is at stake.

All that is left are measurable results that benefit citizens – the bane of many politicians.

And speaking of producing measurable results that benefit citizens ….

President Obama is insisting on the need to perform a military strike against Syria when he, John Kerry and their many political and military advisors cannot publicly identify the actual threat to America, the benefit to America in carrying out the attack or the downstream ramifications of what might happen should an attack be launched.

And as I listen to them play chess with our safety and our lives yet again, I think of the 15 close friends that I lost in the World Trade Center almost 12 years ago and the thousands of loved ones who were lost on that day and in the wars that followed.

When politicians use our security, our well being and our lives in the grand scheme of the strategy game they are engaged in, they do it with lots of upside and little downside … for themselves.

My friends cared little for the political, diplomatic and military tit for tat exercises that ultimately produced their death.

Meanwhile, the people who participated in the events that led up to 9/11 have moved on to bigger and better things, safe behind the security only available to those who play God with the lives of others.

The bottom line

The greatest challenge in our world is that the definitions of reality in the real world and the political world will continue to diverge until all politicians are forced to live the realities that they create for others.

Only then will they realize what needs to be done and how quickly it needs to be done in order to create a better world for everyone.

As James Freeman Clarke once said:

A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation.

In service and servanthood,



Minister Griffiths has apologized for his use of the f-bomb as noted earlier.


  1. Great essay Harry! Reading it got all kinds of thoughts and emotions flowing. I'd like to read your thoughts on the emergence of the so-called "Media Party" as a force in the political game. So much of what is demanded of the modern politician panders to the needs of the media. Sound bites and visuals are proving more powerful (meaningful?) in affecting people's thoughts, than policy and substance. It is a sad lament when a profanity creates more public dialogue than either an outrageously good or bad policy initiative!

    When I entered politics I thought I could become a conduit for building a better way. Now I see that voters, have become too cynical to care about change. The status quo has become a selfish mantra of "Me First!" as everyone struggles and fights for their own best interest.

    Your closing quote: "A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation." highlights the fact we've all devolved into a nation of selfish politicians.

    With that said, I believe there is a place for anger in society. The issue becomes a matter of how that anger is manifest. If we direct our anger and outrage towards ending cronyism, partisanship, selfishness and greed, we can end up with a better government and a better Alberta. I am proud to be mocked by the twitter rolls as a member of #teamangry! Yes, I am ANGRY at the state of affairs in politics. I'm angry enough to stand up and say ENOUGH already. I won't accept my elected officials using profanity to deride anyone. I won't accept my elected officials lying, or bending the rules to suit themselves. I won't accept my elected officials attempting to redefine illegal as "unethical" and then accepting unethical behavior as just being "passionate". I won't accept my Premier mouthing profanity in the Legislature towards any form of legitimate opposition. I won't accept the blatant partisanship exhibited in every official government press release... And every reader knows I could go on and on. You bet I'm ANGRY and I'm not done yet.

  2. Hi Rick,

    Thank you for your very kind words and for your detailed response.

    While I wouldn't describe myself as angry, I have great concern about where we are going and believe that politicians have to move from "I'm telling you what I will do for you" to "I"m showing you what I will do for you" ... and they need to remember that they work for us and not the other way around.

    I have seen people attempt to roll over you on Twitter, something I believe is unfair because from what I know of you, while you are highly passionate, you are also highly respectful and open to hearing the opinions of others.

    Without passion, we as a species would have died out a long time ago.

    Anger and indignation, when converted into action and results, are useful and important.

    When they are converted into violence, apathy, indifference or obfuscation, when they are leveraged for personal gain or they continue to be promoted without being converted into something positive, become something not useful and are in fact potentially dangerous.

    I believe your anger is wired around making a positive difference in the world and for that, I am grateful for people like you and for your belief that a better world can and must be created.

    Create a great day!