The Bermuda Democratic Alliance has been priding themselves on taking the high road in local politics and yet does their phrasing betray them? In their recent press conference speech on their economic platform they suggest:
The Bermuda Democratic Alliance believes there are four strategic objectives we should employ when managing Bermuda’s economy:
1. Government must make a commitment to achieve a budget surplus over an economic cycle, and work to ensure that current account spending is less than total tax revenues.
2. Government must be transparent and prudent in its spending.
3. Government must, through legislation and policy, facilitate an environment that encourages economic activity, and a further diversification of sources of foreign cash inflows.
4. Government must diversify its sources of tax revenue, and distribute the burden on its citizens more fairly.
Note the use of the word “must”? It’s the kind that puts people on a defensive.
Imagine you’re my neighbor and I come over to tell you that you must clean up the stuff you left on the sidewalk before someone trips over it and hurts themselves. Are you likely to do it? Doubtful. Even if I’m trying to help save you from a lawsuit or injuring a neighborhood child by using a forceful word like must it’s like I’m ordering you to do it. You go on the defensive and despite the risks may well ignore my recommendation just in spite.
Using such a phrasing puts people on the defensive. It leads down the “our way is the only way” and “we told you so” route that has plagued the United Bermuda Party. It puts people who voted for the Progressive Labour Party on the defensive because it suggests that it is the way things have to be done in a “my way or the highway” style. People don’t react well to this kind of approach.
Instead would it have been better to subtly question the PLP’s ability to manage the economy without actually making it about the PLP? Thus winning more people to your point of view through strategic use of rhetoric such that people are left not only supporting your views but also agreeing with you regardless of who they typically vote for? As they say in sales, the more often you get people to say yes and agree with you the easier it is to encourage them to buy what you’re selling.
Let’s do a bit of revising and see how things turn out.
The Bermuda Democratic Alliance believes we need to answer four important questions if we’re going to succeed in restoring our economy.
1. Can we manage to make a commitment to achieve a budget surplus over an economic cycle, and work to ensure that current account spending is less than total tax revenues?
2. Can we manage to be transparent and prudent in our spending?
3. Can we manage, through legislation and policy, to facilitate an environment that encourages economic activity, and a further diversification of sources of foreign cash inflows?
4. Can we manage to diversify its sources of tax revenue, and distribute the burden on its citizens more fairly.
Follow that up with whatever kind of Obama-like “yes we can” style dribble that The Alliance seems to like relying on and you’ve accomplished a few things.
Before it was attacking government. It was putting government and those who voted for them on the defensive. It was clearly defining BDA as not government and having no prospect of being government. Is that really the perception they want?
Now it’s not about government and yet subtly is. It’s about the people regardless of political affiliation. It’s unifying phrasing and it challenges someone to ask if they can manage to do something. It’s about getting every individual to ask themselves if we together can achieve these things. It’s getting people to agree with you even if they don’t yet support you. Every time someone agrees with you the next time it gets even easier.
Tell someone they must and you’re oppressive, ask someone if they can manage and you’re challenging their self esteem and ego. The Bermuda Democratic Alliance is new to the game so we can cut them some slack. Let’s remember though, they can preach all they like about their ‘core values’ but what really matters is managing perceptions so that those core values don’t seem fake and manufactured. BDA would do well to do everything they can to emanate and truly be their core values if that’s what they’re going for. Taking the high road is more than just saying you’re going to do it.