I am one of those truly independent voters. I do not closely identify with either the Republican or the Democratic parties and most of the time I vote quite reluctantly, knowing that I will always have to sacrifice some of my more closely held beliefs no matter whom I choose.
I have often wished for a more centric third party. While the Green party and the Libertarian parties have made very limited inroads into the political scene, both are at the fringes and will never command the majorities needed to win an election.
However, they do have influence.
The Arrow Paradox
Many political pundits believe that Ralph Nader played a role in taking down Al Gore in the 2000 election. Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow would probably agree. In 1951 he laid out a mathematical paradox that showed the entrance of a third, less preferred choice, will lead to an upset.
So as the US becomes more fragmented in its choices, there will necessarily be more wheeling and dealing. Or the Engines of Our Ingenuity program put it:
Arrow used mathematics to show that we can’t; that instead, rhetoric, gamesmanship, and back-room deals must necessarily be part of the political process.”
The other way is compromise, which as an independent voter I have come to appreciate more fully.
The Permanent Campaign
Scott McClellan, President George Bush's Press Secretary, laid this out beautifully in his book, “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception.”
How we have overcome the need to compromise is to use communication channels to villanize and mobilize people against a specific objective. In other words, we have flattened and simplified the debate into sound bites. And much to McClellan's credit, he called it out. Regardless of your political leanings, as a communicator, his book was an interesting read.
The book the Permanent Campaign, a much older book that lays out the philosophy so readily adopted by politicians, should be required reading for communicators, especially political ones. But the ideology of a permanent campaign, while not new, was implemented by the Clinton White House more deeply and then entrenched by the Bush White House and baked into American politics. This philosophy is all about image and branding versus substance.
Communication for Compromise
Barack Obama is promising not to take this route. This morning, In an interview this morning, NPR's Steve Inskeep asked Steve Hildebrand, deputy campaign manager for the Obama campaign, if Obama would engage in a permanent campaign environment.
As a communicator, his answer stood out to me among all of the other commentary.
Hildebrand chose his words carefully, but it was clear to me that he understood the concept as I have laid it out here, and he made it clear that Obama would not do this -that the goal was to work together.
An Uphill Battle
It will be a hard task for Obama to hold the line. He will have a lot of pressure from his own party to move the country significantly to the left, which those that voted from the center will deplore. He will also have the sharks circling from the right, looking for ways to regain esteem and power – most likely at his expense.
Then there are those little issues of the world economy and disquiet…
A new understanding of communication, from being a way to shape image and branding of a candidate or party to more of one of compromise and discourse will require a new understanding by politicians and their communications staff.
We should all consider taking a course or two in conflict resolution because those are the skills that will be needed.
- The Perils of the Permanent Campaign, TIME, Joe Klein, October 2005