In response to my article, The Dayton Daily News Cut Fifty Words From The Heart Of My Article, where I suggest that MCDP needs to be transformed, Stan Hirtle asked a good question — Can I provide any model of a local political party that has accomplished such transformation? The answer is “No. Not yet — but here is a start on a two part strategy by which such a model might be developed”
Stan, the problem you cite — “imagining a political party being anything other than bosses and insiders raising money, handing out jobs and advancing and protecting themselves” — is exactly the problem that needs to be solved.
The problem of imagining what a transformed political party may look like is a systems’ problem, and, as readers of this blog know, I like to apply W. Edwards Deming’s insights concerning systems whenever possible. To imagine a transformed system, we need to remember that every effective system has two key aspects:
- a well defined mission and
- an organizational structure thoughtfully designed to best accomplish that mission.
Political parties are so focused on producing winning candidates that winning seems their entire mission. The “political bosses and insiders raising money, handing out jobs and advancing and protecting themselves” is defended as a structure that works to produce winning candidates. Boss centered, hierarchical organizations are defended as being effective in reducing internal conflict, and in conserving scarce resources making it more likely for the party’s candidates to win.
One side effect of political parties being focused on winning is the growth of distrust, cynicism and apathy within the electorate. The resulting suppression of voter participation has benefited the Republicans. The response of political parties to growing voter cynicism has been to sharpen and expand their marketing efforts — further increasing voter cynicism — in an ever accelerating cycle.
The challenge for the Democratic Party is to break this cycle by consciously transforming its current system. Every successful system is guided by a mission that inspires and motivates. A local church, for example, does not define its mission as constructing buildings and raising a lot of money. The effort to construct buildings and raise an ever larger budget is inspired by a bigger purpose that motivates its members.
The purpose that should animate the MCDP must be one that transcends simply winning elections. The purpose of MCDP that will inspire and motivate the action that is needed must be one that is more than simply acting as an advocacy group focused on marketing certain issues. We need to focus on something more fundamental. I believe we can find a source of motivation and civic action by focusing on democracy itself. The MCDP should see its transcending mission as promoting and empowering democracy. If we could actually fulfill such a mission — by educating the public, by facilitating opportunities for political participation, by creating community — then, of course, Democrats would win elections in droves.
To accomplish such a mission, the MCDP would encourage the growth of grass roots democratic structures throughout the county. Brainstorming what such structures might look like is the next step. For one thing, the MCDP itself should be structured as a model of a democracy empowering organization. As I said in my DDN letter, “Democrats now are looking for a 21st century organization that is democratic and inclusive, and that welcomes them into a meaningful and connected community.” Not only Democrats would support such a transformed party, but such a party would have wide appeal to many who currently are disengaged from the whole political process.
Success for the MCDP ultimately would still be measured in terms of how many elections are won by Democrats. My premise is that an engaged, connected, empowered and informed electorate is much more likely to vote Democratic, rather than Republican and so winning elections would be a side-effect of pursuing the mission of empowering democracy to work. Here is the analogy: The mission of General Motors is to produce quality automobiles. Making a profit for its shareholders is by-product of accomplishing this mission. The MCDP needs to focus on making democracy work — winning elections will be a by-product of such effort.
This notion that MCDP should be seen as a system guided by a mission and empowered by an organizational structure that advances the mission should provide a platform for thoughtful discussion — a good structure for imagining what a transformed political party may look like. The devil, as usual, is in the details. To help inspire discussion, I intend on continuing this line of thought with further analysis and development.