■ In a political playfield of dismissive contenders, the incumbent prevails
After a forum about leadership in Nigeria, a smart management student asked me (based on my presentation on “The Decree of Incumbency) why I believed that Nigeria’s leader, President Jonathan might be back in office for a last term after his failure to deliver a multitude of promises. My answer was simple - ‘because, at the time, his contenders were a bunch of “Doles, McCains, Palins, and Romneys.’ Let’s recall that even with a sex-scandal that ate up his integrity, then Democratic President Bill Clinton won a reelection against his Republican challenger, Senator Bob Dole from Kansas. Consequently, with manipulation of election process in battleground states, voter intimidation, distortion of facts and billions pumped into the campaign arena, Republican candidate, Mitt Romney failed woefully to unseat the incumbent, Barack Obama.
My theory is not complicated at all. It is a judgment of reality that, in a political playfield of dismissive contenders, the incumbent prevails. Ethiopian poet, Hama Tuma was absolutely right that “Better the devil you know than the devil you don't.” These theories are ignited by a psychology of fear which restricts human beings from taking risks with issues related to love, trust, and integrity. Another author, Jeffrey Winters, on why people would be fearful of the unknown stated, “We are quick to judge, fear and even hate the unknown. We may not admit it, but we are all plagued with xenophobic tendencies.”
The social psychology of fear is not a fallacy. German philosopher and diplomat, Kurt Riezler furnished a comprehensive analysis of what was termed ‘the psychology of the modern revolution,’ some psychosomatic conceptions characterized by the kind of fear which in times of crisis befalls the ordinary citizen as "fear of the unknown.” He inferred that “The relation of the first something to the second something and their respective relevancies determine the particular kind and intensity of our fear.”
Besides these feelings of distress and skepticism, there is also the issue of leadership values and approaches. These days, people would prefer a charismatic ‘Mother Theresa’ to a conservative Bishop of Lincoln, Fabian Wendelin Bruskewitz who would deny the Eucharist to Catholic politicians who supported abortion, including 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. That was why 2001 Campaign, Houstonians kept the incumbent, Major Lee P. Brown and dumped a conservative councilman Orlando Sanchez after a heated poll. Brown it may be recalled received open support from former president Bill Clinton, whereas Sanchez received tremendous conservative support, including endorsements from President George W. Bush, former President George H.W. Bush and Mrs. Bush, Rudy Giuliani and a host of other Republicans.
But this 2001ferocious Houston electioneering battle left some indelible lesson notes for prospective aspirants. Most outstandingly, it instilled some gravity into Houston’s political arena and authenticated the perception that the power of the incumbent is not an illusion. In other words, to unseat a popular incumbent, a candidate needs to be armed with effective strategies rather than talking points; he or she needs to showcase a reformation blue print, not display political godfathers. Voters’ demand for leadership has changed over the years. As Bill Gates noted, “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” Hence, in a current global era of economic and socio-political uncertainties, the common man prefers transformational leaders with charismatic attitude; they want a leader who would share lunch, motivate them and empower their prospects. Such a leader must be equipped with high level of emotional intelligence, so as to balance theories and followership with authority and situations for excellence.
Mayor Annise D. Parker is an incumbent rooted deeply in her mayoral designation. Just like the Pope to Vatican, she understands the city as a significant other, and charms her constituents with undiluted milk of human kindness – a heart needed to connect, uplift and collaborate with others in quest of achieving projected goals and vision. As one Southwest resident told me, “I have never met her in person, but I just love her. I see her all the time on TV, and I love her simplicity, her good heart.”
Parker’s closest rival is former City Attorney, Ben Hall who supposedly shares the same Democratic Party values. But Halls approach to the race emits more uncertainties and may pull up the attitude of fear and distrust among voters. For instance, he reportedly hired Wayne Dolcefino, a former Channel 13 investigative reporter, to do "opposition research" on his opponent, Parker. Dolcefino is a notorious investigative reporter who allegedly targeted successful politicians for negative story displays. So why would Hall go that far? A serious contender should be armed with complete blueprint on balancing a complex budget, fighting crime, growing market, and establishing business instead of investing campaign funds in sheer mug-sling process.
The philosophy of incumbency is not a fairy-tale but is a judgment of certainty, signifying the power of the existing mandate in the midst of superficial contestants. To unseat an incumbent, a challenger needs an effective strategy to convince the electorates on why they should risk the known to the unknown; a contender must be armed with substantial problem statements along with some constructive solutions. In addition to such solutions, this contender must demonstrate effective machineries to translating proposals into action. At this time, when Hall is busy digging the dirt, and also showcasing some community big names and godfathers as a shortcut to victory, Mayor Parker remains an undisputed incumbent awaiting a November landslide triumph.