The Parties’ Losing Strategies Could Become Wins For Them and the Country

Part One: Republicans

Transpartisan Note #82

by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner

We believe that both nationally branded political parties—Republicans and Democrats—follow losing political strategies.  There are more voters registered independent than either party; nearly half the electorate not registered.  Independents and nonvoters combined equal many more than the two parties combined.  See our Note #52.

If the parties were businesses, both would be economically bankrupt.  As the record currently stands, the vast majority of Americans—well over 50% and as many as 75%—see the parties as morally, aspirationally, operationally, and politically bankrupt.

The American and global publics move into the 21st century with new ideas, new activities, and major inventions while the political parties lock themselves into the battle structures of the last quarter of the 18th century—time of the French and American revolutions; Napoleon’s war as politics and the stirrings of the industrial nation state.

To differentiate their brands, the parties divide the country into opposing armies fighting over ‘the pie’.  Their professed concern for the ‘larger good’ disappears.  Each acts as if it had all the answers and the other none.  Both pitch to a ‘base’ that excludes the vast majority of the electorate.

The parties market their brands differently.  Democrats focus on distribution—the existing pieThey attack Republicans for helping the rich and harming the poor.  Republicans focus on a bigger economy—expanding the pie. They attack Democrats for waste.  Neither aims credibly at expanding the pie and distributing it competently.

Democrats support benefits given visibly and directly to people.  Republicans support benefits given invisibly and indirectly to unknown recipients.  Democrats deride Republican policy as ‘trickle-down economics’.  Republicans ridicule Democrats for ‘promoting class warfare.’  Everyone else puts their fingers in their ears.

Democrats’ political objective expands the numbers receiving public benefits, while the GOP focuses on shrinking those numbers.  Republicans seek to shift government support from the poor to entrepreneurs—whom the Democrats call the rich—arguing they will expand the economy helping everyone.

The Republican strategy tends to be a vote loser politically because it is easier to organize people who benefit directly than indirectly.  This is important both financially and in terms of personal engagement and caring: Democrats know who their constituents are.  Republicans seemed confused about theirs.

To promote a new, ‘caring’ brand, Republicans could focus on that which is essential for both rich and poor—on promoting community.  While governments collect and distribute money to people (rich and poor), civil society organizations (CSOs) promote civic engagement, the essential energy for community.

Republicans need more than bashing governments.  They need alternatives for helping and empowering people.  They need models of success that not only engage and empower people; they also need political strategies for importing features that engage and empower people into bureaucratic programs that alienate everyone in them.

Real experiences with civil society citizen empowerment exist, especially in difficult environments.  Examples are Delancey Street Foundation (San Francisco), Educate Girls Globally (working in government schools in two states of India), UNICEF’s Girls Community Schools in Upper Egypt, and many others.

Candidates, officeholders, and party officials might start by connecting with program such as these, both civil society projects and government institutions that feature the same qualities, empowering citizens and manifesting conservative values.*  Republican leaders should look for programs that promote citizen engagement—self-governing schools, housing, and community health and others.

The most interesting of these examples might be government programs like Vis Valley under James Dierke that moved away from a mechanized, bureaucratic structure and culture to more engaged, human structures.  They need to launch projects as examples and promote a new public debate on this new vision of social services from both public and independent sources.  They should inform voters about the amazing progress that empowered people achieve and how models like these can be expanded and developed.

Politicians should visit successful program and dialogue with teachers and students on their amazing successes.  The media would love it, reporting on extraordinary transformational stories on the evening news.  Everyone would love it because it would represent transpartisan (four-quadrant, including a role for everyone) values.  Using this strategy Republicans could rebrand their party.  Or the Democrats could.  See our Note #83.

*An example of the latter would be Visitacion Valley Middle School in San Francisco when James Dierke was principal.  Dierke was a product of the public school system.  He was founding president of the administrators’ union in Northern California.  In 2007 [?] he was chosen the outstanding principal of a middle school in California, and in 2008 he won that award for the entire country; and he was Executive Vice President of the National Association of School Administrators. 

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