It’s amazing to me that we fight so much. Really. There’s a lot of talk about positive politics, but we don’t seem to be good at practicing what we preach. This has become very evident to me this week.
When I first started working on the Meili Campaign, I spent a week or two lurking on the #skndpldr hashtag in Twitter. I was shocked to see that supporters of the candidates were going at each other in what amounted to flame wars. Not just once, but frequently. Even when that level of acrimony was not present, supporters seemed to have a hard time remaining positive. If they weren’t saying something negative about an opposing candidate, they were criticizing, quite negatively, platforms and policy. I find this hard to take, especially in a leadership race. Here are a few reasons why.
- Very basically, we’re all on the same team. In a few months, when the race is over, all of the supporters should be working together to make the party stronger. To make sure we are accurately representing the interests of the base. To develop and support policies and programs that make a positive difference. How can we do this effectively with people we have insulted, denigrated, or betrayed only months or weeks before?
- Every time someone says something negative about a candidate or campaign member, they provide ammunition to opposing political parties for their own attacks during or between elections. Why make this job easier? The last thing we want to let an opposing party do is say, “even their own party thinks this policy is bad”!
- Respect carries the game. Giving credit where credit is due, respecting one’s opponent, supporting the good ideas; these things elevate the discussion and help make better policies. Opposing for the sake of opposition eventually just looks silly. And ineffective. At the end of this race, all of the candidates should be able to look each other in the eye over a beer and say, “I really liked many of your ideas.” Also, it should be about convincing the membership that your ideas are effective, not that by our opponents’ ideas are bad.
- Finally, it turns people off. The kind of people who thrive on negative talk, bullying behaviour, and simple meanness are not the kind of people we want involved in the governance of our country. People who don’t do these kinds of behaviour leave the arena when faced with this. They just walk away. However, those are the people we really want involved. If the tone is negative we’re attracting the wrong kinds of people and driving away the best.
Honestly, the differences among candidates in a leadership race is small. Some stand out more than others, the approaches are different, some are appealing to specific constituencies, but they’re all coming from the same set of social, political, and economic ideas. These commonalities should be celebrated every day. Stand out through the development of innovative ideas, through evidence of effective implementation of those ideas, and through a clear ability to listen, understand, and communicate with members. Show that you can grow the consensus, grow the party, and establish truly positive politics.
And encourage your supporters to do the same. Then you will stand out from the crowd. And will be worthy of office.