All politics is local

At Home & Abroad - by Jun Abad

Posted at Mar 31 2013 03:22 PM | Updated as of Mar 31 2013 11:22 PM

While this week marks just the start of the campaign period for the forthcoming elections scheduled on 13 May 2013, those who are only starting now to work to get elected are too late in the game of competitive politics.

Why? Because all politics is local.

What does it mean?

“All politics is local” means being always immersed at the community level, knowing your people, understanding their problems, creating opportunities and jobs, using your power and resources to win them over, and personally asking for their votes. This is not unique to the Philippines. This is universal.

One of the most interesting sets of political anecdotes could be found in a memoir written by Tip O’ Neill, who was speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States for ten years from mid-70s to mid-80s. This book, entitled “All politics is local,” contains all-time and across-the-board rules of the game of politics.

Before the campaign period

Most of the rules to be played happen long before election day. In fact, many of them begin immediately after elections. For both aspiring and veteran politicians, these rules should be a way of life. In comparison, less than half of the rules are played during the campaign period itself. Tip O’ Neill has many tips. I have selected a few as follows:

- Go home often and report to your constituents
- Make good investments out of your “pork”
- Use your power and clout to protect your people
- Take care of your loyal supporters
- When you join a political party, wait for your turn to take the lead; be loyal
- Help, including those who did not contribute to your campaign
- No chore is too small; routine letters and unannounced visits make a difference
- A life of public service should not make you rich
- Never forget where you came; fame is fleeting

During the campaign period

- Keep in mind four essential ingredients of a campaign: the candidate, the issues, the organization and money
- Have a platform, such as work and wages, education and environment
- Be in the right place at the right time and make the best of it; know your audience
- Ask people to volunteer – they want to be asked
- Don’t forget to ask for their votes, including your neighbor and spouse; you can’t win without the votes
- Never attack an opponent’s family
- Deliver a speech with one memorable sentence
- Persist, but be realistic of your chances

We are all politicians

All these make politics a matter between leaders and followers. Local in politics means building personal relations and linkages, making personal presence at their most important occasions, having personal touch in every way possible.

It means understanding community issues, problems and challenges, delivering basic public services, and providing local employment and means of livelihood.

It means being able to connect by saying relevant things to the right audience. It means tailoring every campaign speech to each class and specific group of voters.

In a sense, doing local by itself is neutral. We could just as well be all politicians in our own local ways and situations. Doing local should also be the way of private volunteer groups and non-government organizations.

Local stuff could be done and used either for the common good or for personal gains. Unfortunately, on the eve of elections, it is often employed and exploited for wrong reasons.

Exceptions

Generalization is always a risky business. Some lucky aspirants could win through other ways. There will always be exceptions to the rule. But since they are exceptions, such extraordinary factors must be evident if not overpowering to make a difference.

Some of these out of the ordinary factors may come in the form of campaigning in the name of someone who did the work in the past (such as heroes and political dynasties), preponderance of resources, extreme charisma and popularity, intimidation and use of force, and running against a token opponent. It is a tragedy if these exceptions become the rule.

Strategic issues

Nevertheless, it is important for a nation to understand that some politics are beyond local. These involve national defense, foreign affairs, and public finance, among others. But they are only non-local to a degree.

If you cannot do your business because of peace and order problems in your neighborhood, if you have a family member in a foreign country at war, or the value of your income is affected by rising prices, inflation and currency fluctuation, then even these strategic issues become local. Their effects could be direct and personal.

Some of us must pay attention to these strategic issues whether or not we gain personally from them. In fact, for some of these long-term issues, it is better that those who make policies and decisions do not gain for themselves. Some of these issues are justifiably referred to as non-partisan for a reason.

Indeed, if we want to win for our nation and our collective future, we must think and act strategic. Issues of peace and stability, protecting our national interest abroad, creating economies of scale to be viable and competitive, enforcing rule of law and exercising good governance, and preserving our environment for future generations, are what truly make and sustain a nation.

On this, Speaker Tip O’Neill has this advice: politicians should take time to discuss with their constituents and get them to understand national issues. By doing so, they will allow their representative to be a “national Congressman” and vote for things that are good for the country, but may not have a direct impact on their district.

The local is us

The overarching rule is to do “local stuff” in order to win. Anybody who pays attention to their locals wins.

If you hear someone say that such style happens “only in the Philippines,” you know better. All politics is local both here in the Philippines and elsewhere in the world.

And that is not necessarily bad. The local is us. The point is that we the people rightfully hold the key to who should be elected as our leaders. The locals should not just be subjects of politics as some politicians would have it. The locals should help themselves to be capable of looking beyond the “local stuff.”

We should base our opinions and decisions on factors known to us long before the campaign period, and certainly not on the eve of election day. These factors are none other than character and capability.

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Jun Abad is Chairman of the Institute for Strategic and Development Studies in the Philippines. He is the author of The Philippines in Asean: Reflections from the Listening Room. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations of his affiliation.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.