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A Few Typical Errors In Election Platforms

1) Introduction

I wish I knew how to write a good election platform, especially a generic Christian one. The best I can do for now is to mention a few typical errors which we must avoid.

Ideally, if this text were well-written, you'd be able to take it, start reading some political platform, and number the errors in that platform using the list here below.

2) Not having a platform at all

This sounds silly, but unfortunately it's a frequent error.

Why avoid having an election platform? For some bad political parties, NOT having a platform is their way of getting elected! They will just stick to nice camera shots of their leader and warm and fuzzy speeches. That way, once in power, they don't have to keep any promises, and they can concentrate all their efforts on staying in power!

Another cause for the absence of an election platform is sheer ignorance. Many people believe a list of slogans and pious wishes constitutes an election platform, so they might not even be aware that their party doesn't have an election platform!

Quick Check:
If you send 30$ or so, asking a party to send you their election platform, do you get anything in the mail?

3) Having an incomplete platform

Most parties, like most men, tend to see only part of reality. For example, some Christian parties see very clearly that abortion is a great evil, and they have all kinds of good ideas to reduce the number of abortions. On the other hand, they have no idea how to fix the economy, or how to eliminate pollution, or how to make immigrants feel more welcome, etc.

A modern State is a complex entity, and many things can go wrong with it. So a detailed diagnosis and prescription for a cure cannot fit on a small leaflet.

Quick Check:
If you drop the paper copy of an election platform on your foot and it doesn't hurt, it cannot possibly be complete.

4) Floating around on pious wishes and daydreams

After absent or incomplete programs, the most common error is lack of contact with reality. As the chap riding the magic carpet says: "If I don't need to be in contact with reality, I can solve all your problems!" (See "Sustainable Development, And Pollution By Pious Wishes".)

Yes, it's true that if we could eliminate the Law of Gravity, we would save a lot of aircraft fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Except physical laws cannot be changed by Parliament. In actual election platforms, the laws that are ignored are often sociological and economical. For example, some platforms claim we should increase taxes on large corporations and banks. The problem is that any tax you slap on a corporation will normally be simply passed on to the consumer, i.e. the prices for the products manufactured by that corporation will probably increase by a proportionate amount. (I'm not saying we shouldn't tax the rich! I'm just saying sometimes it's more complicated than some people think.)

This once again leads us to the very important topic of education. Once again, if we want to solve our country's problems, we have to acquire deep knowledge about Economics, Ethics, Geopolitics, etc. Reality has its laws, and we cannot change those laws. We can only get to know them, so we can use them to our advantage. The old saying is: "Natura non vincitur nisi parendo", or "Nature can only be conquered by being obeyed". To take the example of flying, we can see that by learning aerodynamics, the relationship between lift and drag for an airfoil, turbulent and laminar flow, etc., we can build airplanes. But we can't build magic carpets.

Quick Check:
Can you kill a professional Economist with laughter, by showing him some claims made by that electoral platform?

Quick Check:
Is the electoral platform vandalized with vague expressions like "All available measures will be taken to fix this or that", or "Urgent and proactive actions will be taken to solve such a problem", etc.?

Quick Check:
For each solution proposed by this election platform, would a lawyer have enough details to be able to draft a new law, or modify an existing one?

5) Shoveling taxpayers money out of the back of the election wagon

Any bad politician can promise to give money he doesn't have. See among others "One Million Dollars, One Whip Lash". This error is an important variation of the previous error, i.e. if you are not in contact with reality, you will promise to give money, without explaining where you will get that money.

Quick Check:
Does every promise with a "$" sign next to it also have a footnote explaining where that money will come from?

Quick Check:
Does the election platform say what our current expenses are? What our current debt is? What our sources of income are?

6) Ignoring the lessons of History

A hilarious example I recently saw was: "We will increase immigration into the regions". (Note to non-Quebec residents: Quebec is geographically huge, but mostly empty of population. Moreover, there is a large exodus of young people away from "regions" and toward the largest city, Montreal, and to a lesser extent Quebec City.)

This was hilarious because so many successive governments in Quebec have tried and failed to stem the flow of population from the regions into the urban centers. Everybody agrees it would be nice if we could repopulate ghost towns up North, except nobody has ever succeeded. This doesn't mean we should stop trying to fix a problem, if the problem is hard to fix! But it does mean we should demonstrate knowledge of previous attempts.

Quick Check:
For each long-standing problem, is there a list of which previous governments have tried to solve that problem? Is there, for each government, a summary of the measures they tried to implement, at what time, for what price, and with what results?

Quick Check:
Are the root causes of previous failures analyzed?

7) Ignoring the good work of other parties

By definition, if we're asking people to vote for our party, that means we've carefully analyzed all the electoral platforms of all the other parties, in order to come to the conclusion that they were not good enough. If another political party has already found a solution for a specific problem, we should not reinvent the wheel (or even worse, ignore the solution!). We should just say: "For this problem, we think such and such a party has an excellent solution, and we are all in favor of it".

Actually, one of the steps when writing up an electoral platform should be to at least try to come up with a common declaration, listing what all political parties agree on. This has many advantages, like reducing voter cynicism, increasing the support for good ideas (so they'll get implemented whoever gets elected), etc.

Quick Check:
If you visit a electoral candidate, can you find copies of the election platforms of all the other political parties in his or her bookcase?

Quick Check:
Does the election platform refer, with credits, to good ideas located in the platforms of other parties?

8) Not involving citizens and associations

A political party, by definition, doesn't include the whole population. But a political party that gets elected has to govern everybody! In other words, your "social vision" ("Projet de société" in French) must be fundamentally good for everybody. (That's why it's called "The Common Good"!)

One of the ways of approaching that goal is to ask everybody (or some practical approximation of "everybody") what they think are the problems and the solutions.

Another related and complementary way is to seek the input of "intermediate societies". Political scientists tell us that the smallest natural society is the family, and the largest one is the "Civitas" (or "State") (which in theory could be the whole world). In between those two extremes, you have "intermediate societies", like the Quebec Association of Table Egg Producers, or the Canadian Bar Association, or the Wild Blueberry Association of Canada, etc.

These intermediate societies are an excellent source of information. Many of them regularly publish some sort of "annual report" describing the current state of their industry (or sector of activity), the problems they are facing, their "predictions" for the near future, etc. Those reports also often include some sort of "wish list", or things they would like the Government to do to help them. (Ideally, those reports would also include a list of things this particular association should do to help our Country!)

Quick Check:
Have you ever found a flyer in your mailbox asking for your input in the construction of a political party's election platform?

Quick Check:
Does the election platform include a list of all "intermediate societies" that were contacted for their input?

9) Avoiding the search for the Golden Mean

From what I understand, real political problems are rarely simple. They usually involve opposing groups (each composed of one or more persons) arguing over something which they claim belongs to them. The politician has to find the just answer, which is the Golden Mean. It seems true that in all cases, there is some Golden Mean, and some "extreme" positions, so it seems reasonable to require any solution to first describe the "extreme" positions.

As is said in #4.6 of "The Quiet Revolution, and the Rowdy Pendulum", even our forearm works in a similar way. We have muscles which pull our forearm toward us, and others which pull it away. So by varying the tension between those muscles, we can position our forearm exactly in the middle.

We can disagree about where exactly that "Golden Mean" should be, but we would be inexcusable for ignoring entire "groups of muscles", and giving some lop-sided extreme "solution".

Quick Check:
Before a specific policy is given, are the various "interest groups" or "extreme positions" identified?

10) Avoiding questions

Politics is not religion. Politicians don't gather to write an election platform the way the Apostles gathered to listen to the Revelation of Jesus Christ. We are just human. We don't have all the answers. That should be apparent with the large number of unanswered questions in our election platform.

Some people claim that it makes us look bad to admit we don't have all the answers. Their "solution" seems to be to avoid topics we don't fully understand, or else stick with vague pious wishes, etc. I claim the opposite: if we don't know, then we should formulate a precise question, and leave it at that. Maybe somebody will contact us with the answer! How can someone "fill our glass with truth", if that glass is already full of errors?

Quick Check:
How many times does the expression "We don't know" appear in that platform?

Quick Check:
Do the authors give their contact information, and ask all readers to send them corrections, advice, and answers to their questions?

11) Trying to hide the necessity of sacrifices and education

Apparently, John Kenneth Galbraith famously said: "Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable." Behind that good joke, there is a profound Philosophical lesson. As is said in #4 of "A Crucifix For Pagans?", if following the lure of immediate and base pleasures was the best way of selecting the appropriate policies, then anybody could be a great politician!

It is quite possible that the people of a country are currently ensnared by an error, and that fixing that error would require huge sacrifices and a long educational process for most citizens. (Actually, this is not a theoretical problem. In Canada, for example, anybody can kill any pre-born child for any reason, from 0 to 9 months. A baby is not considered a human person by the Supreme Court!)

When a majority of citizens is trapped in such an error, political parties have the choice of either lying to the population in order to get elected, or telling the truth in order to start the education process, and be forced to lose elections until that process is completed. I claim we must tell the truth, and explain the sacrifices which need to be made.

Quick Check:
Do expressions such as "sacrifice", "self-denial", "long educational process of the people", etc., appear in the platform?

Quick Check:
Do the candidates of that party tell you the same things in private and in public, concerning controversial issues?

12) Be poorly written

Entire books have been written on how to write well. Let's at least mention that we must avoid:

- "Catholish";
- verbal inflation ;
- the language of "values";
- Etc., etc.

Quick Check:
See the errors mentioned in the texts here above.

13) Conclusion

By definition, there is no conclusion to this text. Error, by it's very nature, is "open-ended" or "infinite". But hopefully this short list of typical errors will be helpful to people writing election platforms.

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