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OPINION: Bill Walton, How Far Up the Ladder

Fame can be fleeting
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I have my own ideas of what it takes to be a politician but there had to be more to it than I thought. So I did a little research on the internet of all things to read what other more learned people thought were the requirements to be a successful politician. What were the steps one took to get further up the political ladder (and to be able to stay there without the rungs being pulled from under your feet)?

At the idealistic or first stage, a person might want to serve the public; better the world or at least help the poor and down-trodden. The first step is obvious: educate yourself in your chosen field of endeavour. If you want to be a politico, then study government, sociology, a little economics, public speaking and some card tricks or sleight of hand. Learn to enjoy kissing babies. If you want to be an engineer, study things mechanical, electrical, a little economics, public and private speaking and some parlour tricks to help sell your ideas. Doctor? Study medicine, learn how to cut and sew. You get the idea.

Next, you need lots of money. If you don’t have your own, borrow some from wealthy friends that you can cultivate and to whom you can return the favour by selling influence when you become successful. The influence peddling may not apply to some careers like engineers, firefighters or doctors but will for the successful politician. Once you are in a political position of some standing you may use the money from your party or even taxpayer dollars to advance to the next step on the ladder.

Learn to use other people to gain access to more important people or advance your career plan. These folk are called stepping-stones. Would-be actresses and actors beware of directors who pretend to be stepping-stones. However also be quite aware that some stepping-stones are slippery and tippy. Be alert to finding yourself as a stepping-stone.

Personal contact is excellent in creating an aura of sincerity; however, do not go beyond a handshake. Even a friendly hug of congratulations or condolence can be misinterpreted, if not immediately, then years later. Even hugs or embraces given same-sex staffers can get you into another kettle of fish stew trouble.

Which brings us to sexual contact, real or imagined. If you have any doubts about your past behaviour being as clear and pure as a litre of spring water forget about being a politico or doctor. Even a dentist or athletic trainer. The slightest hint of impropriety can be your downfall. You read the news.

The thing is, people have been using their influence to advantage forever.  While there is no doubt about humans being an ‘Alpha’ male or female, strong personalities and loud voices can push their way to the upper reaches of any ladder - political or corporate. And they may use their status to use you not as a stepping-stone - rather as a perk, pastime or whipping boy.

Once you near the top of the ladder you should be more careful about where you sign your name or put your hands. Unless you are made of Teflon, things like old gas plant schemes might attach themselves to you. Dalliances, even locker-room joking that seemed harmless in your mind, may have a significant impact on other less open minds. You could be open to extortion, blackmail or even lose your perch on the ladder. Social media comments can cost you your reputation and career.

And here’s the rub: even an unfounded allegation can ruin your career and family relationships. Teachers are very susceptible to claims of impropriety, and no doubt some are guilty, however, by using social media it is simply too easy to ruin someone’s life.

The higher up the ladder the better target you make, either for competitors or someone you might have stepped on along the journey. Senators and Premiers are easy to tumble if they have mis-stepped in the past. Movie directors and their complicit staff should bear the brunt of censorship and the law. Righteous indignation from society should yank the ladder out from under them.

Unless that perch is right at the top of the ladder, like a President or Prime Minister who is leading a country and doing great things for the economy. Then many people will absolve you of your past indiscretions and make excuses for your actions. The Evangelicals may even forgive your sins. His Holiness could quite possibly accept your contrite apologies and okay your statements of remorse as balancing the books in public service. You read the papers and see the TV news.

One of the final recommendations about succeeding as a politician was to cultivate friends in high places. You never know when you might need their help or a character reference. Mind, there might be some quid pro quo. Those alpha males and females are a tough crowd.

The last suggestion on being a politician was to develop a thick skin and be able to smile in the face of adversity. Take a selfie of that.