The job of a politician, fairly so too, is to tell lies. That is to say, not tell the truth as it is but tell the truth as he or she would wish it to be. Politicians deal more in the future than the present. The present is an inconvenience – it is more difficult to shape and manipulate. Much easier it is likely to be to convince a voting public that tomorrow may just be the corner we are hoping to turn than to convince them that today is not quite as miserable as it (manifestly) is experienced.
In fact, to take care of a voter’s expectations with respect to the future is probably to take care of how they feel about the present.
The past, meanwhile, is for the irritating elephantine figures amongst us who – with their considerable memories – tie down flights of fancy with a reality all too inarguable.
Better ignored, then, instead of faced up to. Better proscribed instead of prescribed.
Now we all understand and appreciate, I think, the moments in the political cycle when politicians enthuse. Tony Blair was good at this; John F Kennedy for the Americans too. When such salespeople of gloriously word-ridden ideals make our emotions fly with their clever crystallisations of moments in a country’s history, we feel – all of us – that anything might be possible. Whether in adversity or in a time of great advances, a nation’s spirit – how millions feel about themselves and about their environments – can be productively affected by the simple declamations of political leaders.
In companies, some CEOs can do the same.
And in all these cases, in their upsides and downsides, we encounter both the power of that human spirit to overcome and reshape reality as well as a profound appreciation of the value such people add to our experiences of life.
There is, however, a much darker side to these professional communicators: communicators for some – or, as I said the other day, obfuscators for others. What do we understand by those moments when such leaders claim to have a quite different relationship with the future – those occasions when they say they are taking hard decisions and proceeding to tell us tough truths? What is the point of such behaviours – and how do we react? Bad news seems to travel fast, it is true – but, more curiously, bad news seems, like a cinéma vérité surface of edgy camera angles, to engender its own weight of inarguable veracity. We seem to believe more readily the depressions of tough political love than the emotions of sky-soaring pleasure.
The question then arises: when politicians engage in such behaviours – the tough political love, I mean – what are they really engaging in? Knowing, as they must, that whole economies will see their precious confidence exhausted, shouldn’t we be suspicious of any political salesperson who chooses to paint a situation as negatively as they possibly can?
What are they trying to achieve?
What are their true aims?
Isn’t it – simply – a desire to fully manage the moods, and perhaps the overarching ability to fight back too, not only of an entire environment but also of an entire people?
Beware the salesperson who chooses to be that bearer of bad news. They are only out to control you even more than those who – more normally – only choose to sell you the good.