In politics the forces of niceness rarely prevail

We just had a political ‘night of the long-knives’ here in British Columbia. This is nothing new in the most politically wacky of all Canadian provinces. We eat our young and self-defeat at the same time. That takes a certain dubious skill.

Anyway, one Carole James — who was leader of the Opposition in our parliamentary system and head honchette of the provincial NDP (read socialist) body politic, which is a loose and mutually antagonistic amalgam of trade unionists, ivory-tower academics, champagne socialists, and actually some very decent and idealistic people, many of whom I count among my friends — was recently the victim of a long-predicted palace revolt.

I found the drama rather diverting, mainly because I don’t subscribe to that particular party. But, I also don’t subscribe much to any particular party, if the truth is to be known. Generally I am a believer in free-enterprise economies and will not, on point of principle in that regard vacation in Cuba. But I also lean slightly to the left on social issues, mainly because I have worked in that realm and have seen how the callous attitudes of the ‘free enterprise’ party in power have unfeelingly hurt an awful lot of people.

So, come election day, I’m screwed. “A plague on both their houses,” as FDR once said during a protracted labor dispute at the height of World War Two, in terms of both management and labor adversaries.

Anyway, I met Ms. James a number of years ago. She is a pretty lady and the word that immediately came to my mind was ‘nice.’ She is a really nice person. Even her adversaries admit that. And it was that niceness that got her shanked in the corridors of power by people arguably much less honorable (and nice) than she is.

You see, that’s the thing. ‘Nice’ just doesn’t cut it in politics. Appearance of nice can work, but beneath the surface in a successful politician there must be a ruthlessness of the sort that would evoke a looseness of bowels in otherwise decent people like thee and me and the general voting public.

One of my favorite cultural heroes, Maxwell Smart, used to opine of archenemy Siegfried of KAOS — “If only he’d turned all that energy to the forces of niceness.” But, Max was wrong, and that was why he wasn’t a very good secret agent.

In politics as in sports and warfare (the latter two were similar endeavors according to Orwell) nice guys and girls do finish last. Not comforting, but history generally proves it to have been so. Think of the various men and women who have been politically successful and there is a paucity of ‘nice’ folks in the mix. Unfortunately, politics is a blood-sport and those that are not ruthless enough to understand that will end up hemorrhaging all over the place, as did Ms. James and one of her predecessors in that party, Mike Harcourt. These folks may be socialists, but they are not wishy-washy and they are not pussies when it comes to expediting their leaders for the sake of somebody else’s ambition. Brutus and Cassius still prevail.

Consider the following and ask yourselves which politicians  have been the most successful in our western democracies in recent times:

US Nice: Jimmy Carter, Eisenhower, Gerry Ford and, I shudder to think this, possibly Barack Obama. I’d like to be wrong on the last one.

US Not Nice: FDR, JFK, RMN, HST, LBJ, Reagan, George HW, George W., B. Clinton.

Canada Nice: Robert Stanfield, Joe Clark, John Turner, Kim Campbell.

Canada Not Nice: Lester Pearson, Pierre Trudeau (overwhelmingly not nice), Jean Chretien, Stephen Harper, Brian Mulroney, John Diefenbaker, Paul Martin.

UK Nice: Clement Attlee, Anthony Eden, John Major, James Callaghan.

UK Not Nice: Winston Churchill, Harold MacMillan, Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown.

Those in the ‘nice’ groupings are people you’d be happy to have over to the house for tea or drinkies, but you wouldn’t necessarily like to have them make major decisions that impacted your life. Those in the ‘not nice’ category are your ruthless, slightly sociopathic (though often charming) individuals lacking somewhat in normal human sensitivities (which is why they are successful in politics). They might win you a war but don’t trust them around your silverware or your wife/girlfriend.

7 responses to “In politics the forces of niceness rarely prevail

  1. Love your political analogy Ian. Great stuff. Politics is a nasty business and Carole has way too much “niceness” and “integrity” to have survived as long as she has. Make way for the new uber-female movers and shakers. Christy Clark and Jenny Kwan. Could be scary times ahead.

  2. Politics is a nasty business. I agree with your picks for US Nice and US Not Nice.

  3. So true about the Nice thing, especially since it was a minority of third-rungers who brought her down. Seeing the NDP implode like that scares the crap out of me after the reign of the bully that was Campbell. As an NDP supporter I am finding myself actually rooting for Christy Clark’s Liberal leadership (though I hated what she did as Minister of Education) because I think she’s smart and tough and large-L Liberal unlike the wolves in sheep’s clothing that are the current BC Liberals. And with the NDP in meltdown I think we’ll be looking at a continuation of the current Liberals so am hoping for the best from the worst.

  4. Hmm, dunno about this – ‘nice’ is too vague a word. For example, I expect the majority of people who personally know Tony Blair would describe him as extremely nice. I think the word doesn’t seem inappropriate for him, though I still think he’s a man full of delusion and Faustian inner conflicts. But there’s an earnest Christian do-gooder in there are well. Ain’t so black-and-white.

    I am amazed that you feel so strongly about free enterprise that you won’t go to Cuba – you know, they did not become Communists just to spite you. 😉

  5. Barack Obama isn’t nice. He’s effing naive. And I want the 6 months I spent working for him back.

    Anyway, I agree with you that one can only be perceived as nice in politics. I am in the process of learning this the hard way, I think a large number of libruls in the US are actually, and it freaking sucks! I like being nice! I like saving the world! Why do I have to be an evil beeoych to help people??

    Also, Ian, free enterprise … well, I’ll not engage in a political free for all in someone else’s comments. Hah. You know where I stand.


  6. Interesting to think that ruthless, nasty, sociopathic are what makes a successful politician. These people rule the roost.

    Interesting and sort of scary.

  7. Pierre Trudeau (overwhelmingly not nice) …no truer words spoken.
    I think ruthlessness to a small degree (very small) is necessary or one would succumb to every sob story there is and the larger problems missed. That being said I have to agree that too often ruthlessness prevails and the common good of the people ignored.

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