Friday, August 24, 2012

The Correct Way of Measuring Political Consistency

Don't you just hate the fact that many politicians seem very inconsistent in making their political choices? Supporting candidate A today, B the next day.

I still vividly remember a politician who was criticizing one of the independent candidates in July's Jakarta gubernatorial election for the candidate's lack of experience, and then changed his position to be a firm supporter of that candidate once his own candidate failed to join the election process.

We see similar things happening now when some political parties, who previously attacked the incumbent candidate, decided to support the incumbent after tragically losing the first round of the election.

Is this really a bad behavior? Should we condemn such act? I don’t think so. Far from being a reckless act, the change in political choices made by these politicians is simply rational. They would be stupid if they did otherwise. Why?
 
Surviving in the business of politics requires similar skills that you need in order to survive the world of commercial business. Politicians must realize, while their wants are unlimited, their resources and choices are limited, including the number of voters that will support their cause.

In the real world, you can't always get what you want. If you can't get your best choice, you should strive for the second best and so on, to the extent that you still can achieve your end goals, or at least a part of such goals.

The last US presidential election can be a good example. When I was in the United States, I once encountered a political campaign ad from Mitt Romney showing a video record of Hillary Clinton accusing Obama a liar. That was a very strong choice of word.

Obviously, the video was made before Obama defeated her in the presidential nomination race of the Democratic Party in 2008. Afterwards, Hillary became a firm supporter of Obama and now she holds the Secretary of the State position in Obama's administration.

I think that is how the political world works. Politicians use strong words in order to attract voters and to differentiate themselves from other candidates. If you say that all candidates are good, why bother having the expensive election in the first place. We can't settle everything using lotteries.

Thus, it is not a good idea to measure politicians' consistency based solely on what they say during election process or how they change their support from one cause or candidate to other cause/candidate in a short term.

Instead, it would be better for us to measure their consistency from how close they stay true with their basic objectives (assuming that the party itself has such objectives) in a long term.

This means that we need to know to what extent they will compromise their original best plan for getting the second best plan (and so on) in case they don’t have the necessary vote. And knowing the extent of their compromise is much more difficult than reading the bombastic campaign in various medias.

As an example, every media can cover a story of a politician who changes his position from A to B. But why stop there, why not ask more, like the politician's reasons for changing his standing, or how much has been compromised in order to change the vote from A to B, and so forth?

In one of my previous articles, "The Economic Problem of Choosing the Best Leader," I argue how we might create a vicious circle if we let bad politicians rule the game. One of the solutions for us to fight back is to pay more attention to the track record of those politicians.

But in order to understand their overall track record, we cannot rely on insufficient data. Sure, change of political support would be a major news and a good source for political bashing by political rivals. The problem is, everyone is doing the same and people will soon forget the case.

What we really need is a media who records the development of a political party or politician for years and then share the information to the general public. I don’t think that is difficult in this modern age and I bet the information would be more helpful to all of us compared to the usual critics that we now have.

If we really care about how politics shape our life, at least try to make people understand the issues correctly. The battle for image is absolutely necessary for political campaign and it might be impossible to ask those politicians to completely let such practice go.

Surely we can ask the independent parties, i.e. the media, to provide the needed check and balance in our political system, can't we?  

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