Higgins: Under-promise and under-deliverWritten by Tim Higgins | | email@example.com
It’s the last month leading up to local elections in Toledo, and many of those running for office are looking for a last minute approach to put them over-the-top in their efforts. Though without a background as a professional political operative or personal experience in running for public office, I may have an implausible bit of strategy that might work for the most desperate or reckless among you: “Under-promise and under-deliver.”
Now I know that this may seem counter-intuitive, especially in politics. If anything, both incumbent and aspiring politicians are far too often scolded by campaign managers to promise anything and everything they’re asked for in order to gain and maintain voter pluralities, whether such promises can later be kept or not.
For example: More money is needed for streets, for neighborhoods, for those in need and especially (and traditionally) for more police and firefighters … so promise them. The Glass City however, still faces many of the same economic hurdles as its bankrupt northern neighbor. Even the precarious calm of its temporary financial equilibrium involves an all-but-permanent temporary tax and a considerable amount of robbing Peter to pay Paul in order to keep its fiscal house in order.
Besides, the real challenges that those of you seeking elective office are likely to face in the years ahead are those that have yet to appear on the horizon, let alone be accurately recognized. The issues that will doubtless define the time you serve in office are those that have yet to rear their ugly heads. So be patient and careful about that which you obligate yourself to now.
This appears to be a unique period in American politics for those of us who analyze it, with approval ratings for the White House resident and those in Congress at an all-time low. The pronounced upsurge of cynicism where our political class is concerned, however, has made the electorate increasingly skeptical about the steady stream of promises made by candidates to cure the world’s ills and make individual lives better (something that may have contributed to obscenely low voter turnouts in recent Northwest Ohio elections).
Insisting in this last month of public appearances that your participation in the process means all of that will change shows not only a contempt for all who’ve previously held office (not that many of them don’t merit the insult), but could also be considered an affront to the intelligence of those you desire to represent (not that some of them don’t equally deserve it). Asking them what they would like, rather than promising what you will do, may establish you as the unpretentious outsider that much of the electorate appears to be seeking.
Now while under-promising may now seem an easy enough notion to follow, under-delivering may be an even more difficult concept to grasp, so stick with me here. A true leader will not ultimately be judged by the quantity of legislation he or she produces, but by the successful effects it achieves. Be careful, therefore, when attempting to suggest changes to situations with years (if not decades) of social or political momentum behind them, lest they fail through societal ambivalence. The philosophy of “measure twice and cut once” can be used for far more than carpentry.
Look carefully at the ponderous list of the Glass City’s laws before choosing to add to it. Remember that no law will change an opinion or a feeling, nor will adding a regulation protect a citizen from their own ignorance or stupidity. Consider carefully that far too many of Toledo’s recent City Council edicts have been passed as “emergencies,” as if subjecting new legislation to methodical and deliberate scrutiny would bring the opposite result, or more likely, no result at all (and no press coverage as a consequence).
Finally, remember that if history teaches us anything, it’s that the most dangerous political product imaginable is that more commonly called the law of unintended consequences. This unwritten mandate anxiously awaits the legislative mistakes and miscalculations of the naive and unwary. Indeed, far greater damage is likely to be done by those whose zeal to achieve statutory perfection blinds them, in their haste, to its all too likely occurrence. The most altruistic of motives can ultimately result in the most horrible of achievements. If you are fortunate enough to gain office in November, remember during your service there that:
“Nothing is often a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say.” – Will Durant