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 effective in conserving scarce resources. The argument is that winning an election takes effort and discipline and that a party that is organized as a anti-democratic hierarchy is much more likely to win elections than a party that is organized as a pro-democracy deliberative assembly.
A politics of winning at any cost has led to a big increase in the distrust, cynicism and apathy within the electorate. The resulting decrease in the number of citizens who are voting has benefited the Republicans. The response of political parties to growing voter cynicism has been to sharpen and expand their marketing efforts. This further increases voter cynicism. It’s an ever accelerating cycle.
The challenge for the Democratic Party is to break this cycle by consciously transforming itself. The Democratic Party is a huge organization. It is a huge system. Every successful organization 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 Democratic Party must be one that transcends simply winning elections. Here is one suggestion for how the purpose / mission for the MCDP should be stated: To empower democracy to work in all aspects of Montgomery County.
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.