It’s common for politicians to attempt the moral high-ground, but because they live in a “them versus us” world, they rarely attain it.
A pledge by NZ’s Labour Leader David Cunliffe not to “sledge” (abuse of a personal nature) opponents this election was destroyed on the day he made it by one of his MPs, Clare Curran.
Curran told a student magazine that Prime Minster John Key was her least favourite MP, one National Minister was ‘nasty’, and other National MPs were ‘foul-mouthed’ and ‘homophobic’.
Running a positive campaign is a feasible strategy, but Cunliffe’s ‘pledge’ turned strategy into public grandstanding. I’ve said it many times; strategies should be lived, not talked about publicly. Anyway, the pledge was going to be undermined the moment an MP got heated about their opponents.
Many politicians approach politics tribally. They identify themselves with a group, and with its ideas. Because their livelihoods and egos depend on the success of the group, they willfully forget that quite reasonable people can have completely different ideas about how to live. To believe in the superiority of their idea, they denigrate those who don’t share it.
Research suggests this ‘better than others’ belief is more likely from left-leaning politicians than conservatives. So it was more likely that a sledge pledge from a party which preaches tolerance, diversity and peace would be undermined by members being nasty about fellow human beings.
Cunliffe’s idea was nice, but he should never have mentioned it publicly, and it was never going to work anyway.