A simple political giving guideline
By Steve Kirsch
It's hard to get excited about a candidate or political party that can't articulate what they will try to achieve if they get elected. Without clear goals, it's very tough to energize people to make a donation or vote.
Would you get on board a train where nobody can tell you where it is going or when it will get there?
Would you invest money in a company where the management can't tell you what products they will ship or even when they will ship anything?
Are you excited about supporting a political party that can't agree on any long term goals and therefore, if elected to office, will not have any plan for what reforms (if any) that they will accomplish?
In an effort to help the candidates and parties raise more money, energize the voter base, and win elections, I have adopted a new political giving guideline that I have also encouraged my fellow Democrats to adopt:
As a voter, you need to understand what the person running for office will try to accomplish if elected. You are not asking them for guaranteed results. You aren't asking them to agree with your point of view. You are merely asking them for their own list of a few of the most important things that they are committed to try to achieve. This is totally under their control.
Candidates and political parties stand a much better chance of winning if they clearly tell people what goals they are committed to as a party. Lacking such goals, in the corporate world, we'd say they haven't "defined the product" that they are selling. They have to do that before they can have a "message" or "market the product" (spend money on TV ads and get out the vote) or talk about how to "grab more market share."
Unfortunately, we hear a lot about policies and principles or current legislative agendas, but not much about the real high level long term goals. Why can't Democrats agree to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and then agree on a timeframe and a minimum amount?
Without a sitting President or a nominee, Democrats aren't able to agree and articulate a single goal in any of the top 10 area of national importance. For example, do you know the Democrat's top energy goal? Their top education goal? So if they achieve a majority in the House and Senate, do you know what they will try to achieve? Unfortunately, we don't because there are no long term goals associated with the Democratic party.
More importantly, if they don't know what their goals are now, how can we be certain they will have any after they are elected?
Is it reasonable to ask them for their goals before you make a donation? First of all, the Democrats have to have a message, but that message has to come from a set of stable long-term goals that help materialize what the party stands for. If Democrats are to win, they need to define what they stand for and tell people what they will fight for. Otherwise, they will do battle and keep losing seats (like they are doing now).
The goals are a simple sanity check...if people running for office can't tell their supporters the top 10 things they will fight for long term if elected, why should we vote for them?
Each goal should be a long-term goal that is important for the country to achieve. Long term means 3 to 20 year time horizon. Each goal should have dates and numbers so that there can be accountability in determining whether the goal was achieved. The classic goal is JFK's sending a man to the moon and back before the end of the decade. It was absolutely clear what needed to be done, there was a specific time period for completion, and it was completely obvious whether it was achieved or not (it was; just a few months shy of the deadline).
Is this all wishful thinking that works fine in business but won't work in politics? I don't think so.
In 1994, the Republicans did something very similar to what I've outlined here. The Contract with America was introduced during the 1994 election campaign; it was signed by all the Republican members of the House of Representatives, and all Republican candidates for that body. It laid out the plans of the Republicans in a very specific way; the Contract was revolutionary in its commitment to specific actions. It was the first time that a Congressional election had been run on such a national level. The Contract represented a triumph of Newt Gingrich and the American conservative movement. Many observers cite the Contract with America as having helped secure a decisive victory for the Republicans in the 1994 elections; others dispute this role. Whatever the role of the Contract, Republicans were elected to a majority, and many parts of the Contract were enacted (although many others either did not pass Congress, were vetoed by President Bill Clinton, or were substantially altered in negotiations with Clinton.). It created the first Republican majority in the House since 1954. In 1994, Republicans gained nine seats in the Senate, an astounding fifty-two seats in the House, and eleven governorships!
Some dispute the role of the Contract in the election pointing out that few voters had even heard of the Contract. However, what was critical was the contract gave Republican support groups and radio talk show hosts a flag to rally around, and was key to their message cohesion.
I've been told by some Democrats that Republicans can have common goals because the are all alike, but Democrats can't because they are so diverse. Yet, we shouldn't forget that 2 years later in the 1996 elections, we had the Democrats coming out with their own version of "Contract with America" entitled "Families First." That plan was drafted by the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate who hoped to use it as a basis for re-gaining a majority in the House and Senate, according to this CNN article published at the time.
So, the Democratic leadership absolutely proved that they could articulate a specific goals for the party, they acknowledged that having a clear set of goals for the party can help them win elections, and they proved that they could involve Democrats in the House and Senate to put together a set of goals that they could all agree upon.
Since I started requiring goals before I send money, there has not been a single candidate for office that when I asked for their long term goals they said "Thanks for asking...here they are!" They all had to go back and think about them. So I think the argument about there being too much diversity to share any long term goals can't be true since it would require each Democrat to have long term goals that are in conflict with other Democrats. The reality is we have a lot of people who really haven't given it a lot of thought. I'm not criticizing them for that; I'm merely pointing out the facts. So it seems that if you want to make the argument that Democrats can't possibly have long term goals they can agree on, then you should be prepared to show me the long term goals of each candidate to show there is no common ground.
Lastly, does anyone doubt that if we had a popular Democratic President who painted a vision of "we want to be #1 in the world in education in 15 years" that virtually all Democrats would line up in support of the President? So again, the argument that Democrats can't have goals fall flat.
It's important to point out three key requirements for success that the Democrats missed in 1996:
Here are some goals we might have:
And 4 more:
In general, the top 10 areas are typically: