Author: S. B. Bacharach
Smart leaders understand boundaries; certain things are done and certain things are not done. Certain things are said and certain things are not said. Boundaries are not driven by moral imperative, although they may be, boundaries are not driven by right and wrong, although they may be. For political leaders boundaries are often appropriately driven by a sense that there is a tomorrow.
Observing the landscape of political dialogue, there is always a debate over whether people have “gone too far” or “not far enough” in their language and presentation of positions. When evaluating whether a candidate has exceeded boundaries, the reference is to the individual’s character, such as: “So and so knows no bounds” or “Now, they’ve gone over the top.” Implied here that candidate and supporters use whatever language or rhetoric it takes to win. Simply put, we condemn their character on the basis of the rhetoric of their politics. By and large, I think that this is very appropriate.
However, the problem with this is not simply what negative politics does to the image of individual politicians, but what it does to the constituents. The day after the political rhetoric dies, the emotion remains. A scorched earth of unbounded rhetoric is very difficult to build on. Smart political leaders understand that in winning the majority, they can raise the negative, but only within boundaries. The question is what to do the day after, when there is no longer the need to be elected, but to govern and implement. What will they do when they need not just fifty percent on their side, but everyone on their side. Smart leaders understand how to take the lid off the pot so it can release some steam and not let it boil over.