12/31/2012 11:01 am ET Updated Mar 02, 2013

The Elephant in the Middle of the Fiscal Rift

Just because people buy you, doesn't mean they own you.


The Democrats and the Republicans are not enemies; they are merely opponents.

In fact, the Democrats and Republicans who have been “Washingtonized” for more than a couple terms have more in common with their fellow politicians than they do with their constituents.  Evidence for that is that Bill and Hillary Clinton have more in common with New York and Washington and maybe even Los Angeles than they do with Arkansas.

The real elephant in the room that fuels and maintains the Fiscal Rift is not Democratic or Republican members of Congress conflict with each other.  The real elephant in the room is FOCB.  This stands for Fear of Constituents and Base.  Constituents are the voters that politicians ostensibly represent and serve; the base are the influencers, powers and specifically moneyed powers that fund politicians to be able to go after their constituents for votes. Together, the constituents and base form a pincer movement that threatens the political life of a politician much more than someone across the aisle they are yelling or being yelled at.  They enslave politicians and if disappointed will rapidly pull their votes and money and without both (or probably either) politicians are toast.

I have heard from some Washington insiders that the majority of politicians are decent people actually trying to do a good job and would prefer to deal in a more reasonable fashion than they do with people across the aisle.  What puts the fear of doing so is that the deep pockets of many special interest groups in your base and your voters will go empty if you disappoint them.  And many of those special interests don't care about a politician’s constituents.  They are often driven by greed, power, ego, hubris and plain selfishness.

One example how powerful the need is to play to your base and to not disappoint or upset them was when candidate Romney blew a serious hole in his election possibility by saying to a group of wealthy contributors at a private fundraiser last year:

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it -- that that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. … These are people who pay no income tax. … [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

I’m not sure how much Romney actually believes that or the tone of condescension that he took, but he obviously believed that it was what his base needed to hear him say it and how they needed him to say it.

At any given moment if you’re a politician you know three things: a) you know that your constituents and base control you; b) your constituents and base know that it controls you; c) your constituents and base know that you know they control you.

In simple terms, when they vote for you or buy you, they own you.  You know it, they know it and they know you know it.

Because of the fear of retribution by their constituency and base if they disappoint them, many politicians need to act like gladiators when they’d prefer not to.  That comes with the territory when people own you.

Usable Insight -- Don’t fan the flames of your constituents and your base to get elected if you’re going to resort to excuses and blaming when you don’t deliver on your pre-election promises.

Also: Patriocracy by Brian Malone – see my new favorite film about the “Failure to Compromise” logjam in Congress