Politics: The Art Of The IMpossible!

Otto Von Bismarck

Otto Von Bismarck

We’re often told “politics is the art of the possible”, by politicians and political operatives.

The problem with “politics is the art of the possible” is that it’s both a little bit right, and terribly wrong.  This wrongness is important, because this innocent-seeming aphorism is misused to stifle debate, and kill off change.

As an injunction to only chase what’s achievable, “politics is the art of the possible” (hereinafter “PITAOTP”, because I’m sick of typing it in full) is pretty unremarkable, but that’s never how it is used.  It’s always used, in my observation, to reject something that’s politically unpalatable, not necessarily unfeasible – and “unpalatable” and “unfeasible” are very different from one another.

PITAOTP is always used with a powerful implication that what is being sought is intuitively impossible, hence unreasonable, hence not merely rejected but emphatically never to be considered.

And that’s where PITAOTP is dead wrong – because politics should also be the art of changing what’s possible.  Just dealing with today, and the here-and-now, is only part of the job – our politicians must look to tomorrow, as well.

If PITAOTP actually said “politics today is the art of what’s possible today” it would be unobjectionable – particularly if supplemented by “and politics tomorrow is what’s today invested in”.  (And by invested, I mean much more than just demanded –  identified, evaluated, strategised, advocated, and planned).

To the extent that PITAOTP stops the search for what’s possible tomorrow, and stops us investing time and effort in making our aspirations possible, it’s a (convenient, lazy, dishonest) device for blocking change, and particularly progressive change.

And the politics of the guy who first said it should tell you that, too:

“Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable … the art of the next best.”

Otto von Bismarck, August 11, 1867

Politics IS the art of the possible – if your politician aspires to the easy life, the easy half of the job.  For a good politician, politics is the art of making more things possible – the art of making the impossible possible.

(Originally published on Mike Smith’s personal blog)

About Mike Smith

Partner in Ethical Consulting Services: www.ethicalconsulting.com; sometime University lecturer; previously Government Relations consultant; before that Labor Party State Secretary in Northern Territory; union advocate with LHMU/United Voice in NT and NSW; hobby – election campaigns!

Posted on August 12, 2014, in campaigning, Change, Culture, how to lobby. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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