Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Mission of The Democratic Party Should Be: To Make Our Representative Democracy Effective

This is a response to comments I received from my blog: “The State of the Grassroots is Deplorable and our Political Parties Share the Blame”

Actions come from beliefs, and flawed beliefs are often the source of flawed actions. Our democracy is in deep trouble because of the actions of both political parties, and, I believe that this trouble comes from a flawed central belief held by both parties.

Both parties believe that their mission is to win elections. This belief, in my judgment, is flawed, and, from this belief has come many flawed actions by both parties. Winning is all about marketing and, so, candidates have become commodities to be marketed. Both parties advance marketing strategies that cumulatively are harmful to our democracy. These strategies include: pushing and fomenting issues that have “traction,” regardless of their merit, sliming opponents, advancing half-truths and outright lies, and distorting the election process to gain partisan advantage. I don’t see much concern in either party, for example, that 90% of US House seats are “safe.” Both parties are eager to gerrymand.

Most organizations have a mission statement that briefly describes the organization’s purpose. Mary Kay’s mission is: “To give unlimited opportunity to women.” Merck’s mission is: “To preserve and improve human life.” Disney’s mission is: “To make people happy.” Google’s is: "Organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." These companies have found that their key to making money has been to focus on fulfilling a customer centered purpose, and that the more they fulfill that purpose the more money that they make. If these companies had become stuck on a false belief, “Our mission is to make money,” they would probably not have achieved their financial successes.

As I said, it seems to me that our democracy is in trouble because our political parties operate on the belief that their mission is to win elections. Neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party, on a national level, however, have an actual mission statement. This omission is surprising because it seems that every organization. anymore, has one. Maybe the omission of the mission statement means that the mission is self evident, the mission is to win, just as it is self evident what that the mission of a pro ball team is. Only a few state party organizations have a mission statement. The few I found are like Oklahoma’s: “The mission of the Oklahoma Democratic Party is to elect Democrats.”

The Democratic Party does venture a statement that its web-site calls, “The Democratic Vision”
The Democratic Party is committed to keeping our nation safe and expanding opportunity for every American. That commitment is reflected in an agenda that emphasizes the security of our nation, strong economic growth, affordable health care for all Americans, retirement security, honest government, and civil rights.
This “vision,” it seems to me, is mere sloganeering without substance. It’s nice that the Democratic Party is “committed” to keeping our nation safe, but, what in the world could that possibly mean? What is the Democratic Party going to do about the nation's safety? What could it do? Has it ever disciplined one of its elected members because it deemed that the member’s efforts in meeting this important commitment was insufficient? Of course not. Does the party ever evaluate itself as to how well it is meeting this commitment or does it have a process or method to measure how it is doing in meeting this commitment? Of course not. Everyone understands that these sort of "vision" statements are for public relations and have little impact on the way the Democratic Party actually operates.

The Democratic “vision” seems to say that the Democratic Party’s mission is to advance a specific agenda. It is wrong thinking, I believe, to say that the mission of the Democratic Party is to advance an agenda -- of national health care, or whatever. The mission, I believe, is to make representative democracy effective; and as representative democracy becomes more effective, then national health care will result, and many unexpected blessings as well. The point is, if the clear will of a majority of voters became empowered through this democracy, then many good ideas would necessarily become reality.

The parties spend millions to market and influence voters, guided by the purpose to win. A party that pursued a higher mission than simply winning, I believe, would allocate money for other purposes. The Democratic Party, I believe, should articulate a mission centered on advancing democracy. Its mission statement should be something like: “The mission of the Democratic Party is to make our representative democracy effective.” Pursuing a mission to make representative democracy effective, it seems to me, would involve investing in structures to meaningfully engage, educate, and empower the grassroots.

When the goal is to win, yes, it is hard sometimes to make the sale, “to break through apathy, inertia, and petty motivations to fire up the grassroots.” But if the goal is to empower, to give a voice, the attitude of the grassroots would change. The Democratic Party needs a customer centered purpose that is a useful and meaningful guide to the Party's behavior, and is not simply sloganeering. I believe that it makes sense that this guiding purpose should be all about advancing democracy. As a party, we need to abandon the false belief that we should be guided by the mission that says winning is everything. And, if we are guided by a mission to advance participatory democracy, in the long run, I believe, in fact, we will win. How could it be otherwise?

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