Deputy Prime Minister Elżbieta Bieńkowska, who is in charge of Poland’s Infrastructure and Development Ministry, got herself into hot water recently. In response to reporters’ questions over several trains being delayed due to freezing weather conditions, she replied: “Sorry, that’s just the kind of climate we have.”
The media outrage machine kicked into high-gear and within minutes political analysts, journalists and online commentators were roasting Bieńkowska, lambasting her arrogance and lack of sensitivity to the plight of those who had to wait in the cold for the delayed trains.
Bieńkowska, who was appointed deputy PM last November, seemed genuinely surprised at all the fuss, revealing scant political instincts.
The first rule of politics is: Always suck up to voters. Keep repeating how smart they are – “Poles are talented hard-working people, I am sure they will make the right choice on election day” – and how they are entitled to loads more than they are currently getting – “Poles deserve a better government, higher living standards,” etc.
Psychologists call this the “ingratiation technique.” Tell people how great they are and their defenses are likely to be down by the time you attempt to manipulate them.
Second rule of politics: Act like you care even if you don’t.
People like to say they expect politicians to be honest with them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Except in extreme situations like war, a “Blood, Sweat and Tears” speech is guaranteed to lose you an election.
Voters want politicians to tell them things that will make them feel better about their lives. Some prefer the happy warrior who waxes optimistic, emanates positive emotions and promises a brighter future, Obama-style. Others prefer the thundering populist who appeals to the lowest common denominator, telling people they would have a better life if only such-and-such didn’t exist or so-and-so didn’t have so much of an influence on reality, Kaczyński-style.
People like listening to the lies they want to hear. What they can’t live with is a politician telling them a bitter truth: “Hey, life is tough, deal with it” or “sorry, that’s just the kind of climate we have.”
They say people won’t remember what a politician said, they won’t even remember what he did, but they will always remember how he made them feel. When Bieńkowska tells people they should learn to live with the cold weather and stop complaining about delayed trains, even though on an intellectual level they may know know she is right, they will still resent her for it.
There is a Nigerian proverb that states “all truth is good but not all truth is good to say.” This is particularly true in politics.
So either Ms Bieńkowska learns to bull**** a little better or she is not going to last very long in politics. u
Remi Adekoya was the politics editor of WBJ Observer. He also writes for The Guardian