Outside the ivory tower

By Alexis Papachelas

In days such as these, it becomes evident that there are two types of minds out there – the independent and the partisan. And they are worlds apart.

Independent minds are sensitive to the signals coming at them from various directions, regardless of whether these are from society or the financial markets.

The partisan mind, on the other hand, is limited to a microcosm that becomes increasingly narrower each time the country enters a period of elections, experiencing the political polarization that accompany them.

Party officials are usually more interested in the opinion of the 2-3 percent of the hard core of supporters than in the view of the man on the street. The average citizen tends to be used as an object of sarcasm and scorn among senior political advisers. “These people have no idea Mr President. If you pay heed to what they are saying, we will be destroyed,” they will whisper into the ear of the party leader or prime minister.

Such comments are uttered on a daily basis and, in the end, they have the effect of pushing mainstream views to the fringes of the political agenda. Leaders are under intense pressure, they have very little time in their hands, and they are often forced to adopt a bunker mentality.

During periods of extreme polarization such as these, sensible words become a rarity and the ability to appreciate meaningful advice is lost in a fog of confusion. For example, a statement regarding the need for national consensus might be welcomed by the wider public, which favors this kind of political language. However, experts and spin doctors typically counterargue that a conciliatory statement could be interpreted as a sign of defeatism. “We must polarize the climate and galvanize our fighting forces,” they say.

The biggest mistakes are made when leaders are under the influence of aides that have reached the top echelons of power. They can be found within political parties of all stripes. Some leaders try to rise above these courtiers. Some even try to keep the same mobile phone number for years in the hope that an ever wider group of people will now how to get in touch with the leader, thereby improving his interaction with citizens. A good leader is concerned about becoming an out-of-touch denizen of an ivory tower.

At the end of the day, this is one of the biggest challenges that those going into politics face. How can a leader manage to maintain a balance of power inside his own party without losing his or her touch with the man on the street?