A process for winning in 2004
By Steve Kirsch (650) 279-1008 email@example.com
The viewpoints of a key Democratic donor.
OK, we lost in 2002. I'm actually surprised we did as well as we did. This loss should be a wakeup call to Democrats, sort of our own 911. Top leadership in Congress should take advantage of this opportunity to do the basic "Leadership 101" types of things we have never done as a party. We will surely lose if we do not.
Unify or die. More specifically, we need:
Today, we have no set of goals for Democrats. We have some loose principles, but we have no goals and no "business plan" that details the strategies to achieve our (non-existent) goals. Is that any way to run a country? It's leadership 101. Not only do we not have any common goals, but we don't even have a set of goals and business plans that we could even ask the Democrats to adopt. We have nothing. That is a major leadership failure. For example, what's the top energy goal for the Democrats? Ask 10 and you'll get 10 different answers. There isn't one. When I asked about education, I was told that the goal was to "improve education." Give me a break. You want a goal like "we want to get to #1 in the world on achievement for the average student in public K-12 as measured by international exams such as TIMSS by 2020." And then you back up the goal with a credible set of strategies like adopting the best practices that other countries have used that actually work. The education bill we just passed is bullshit...testing won't improve scores....it will just show you how bad things are. There is no example where just implementing testing improved academic performance (and that includes Texas as confirmed by both RAND reports). So why are we implementing stuff on a mass scale that doesn't work on a small scale in the US or any other country? Are we insane?
Is it any surprise that we seem to make little to no progress on key issues in DC? Since we have no long term goals and viable strategies, it's no surprise that we don't get anything done. And because we don't get anything done, all the thinking becomes short term and long term goals become irrelevant. We thus have a self-fulfilling cycle. We essentially get nothing done because we don't even try to get anything done. But of course it is possible to break this cycle if we have leadership. JFK put a man on the moon 7 years after he died. So clearly we can set long term goals, get them through Congress, and get them done. We simply have lacked the visionary leadership to establish long term goals because our leaders are locked into a rut. But I digress...back to the point...
The "conventional DC thinking" is: 1) there is too much diversity in our party to have common goals and 2) besides, even if you had specific long term common goals like "reduce our dependence on foreign oil by 20% by 2020" you can't expect people like Carl Levin to vote in favor of CAFE because he won't get re-elected and 3) we have to be seen as supporting the President or we won't get re-elected. When there is weak leadership and no team unity, all of this is true. Since there has been weak leadership, it has become accepted as fact in DC. And because it's accepted as fact, there is zero chance we will win in 2004 because it means since we won't challenge Bush, he'll be even stronger, and we won't have an agenda that we can articulate or execute or even be heard as having. Therefore, if we are to get anywhere at all, we must change the mindset in Congress. Pelosi and Daschle must start demanding that we set goals and demand that people walk the talk and stand up for the goals and principles of the Democratic party and their obligation to their constituents to vote in a manner that is in the best interests of their constituents, rather than in a manner than minimizes the chance of negative PR (which is what we do now). Of course he can't technically "enforce" his demands since members are free to vote as they please, but there is no excuse for the leadership not exercising the strong leadership this party so desperately needs and demanding that people act as a team and making sure that they pay the consequences if they let the team down. If everyone acts as a team, it's our team against their team and we should win.
The day we have leadership willing to step up to the plate and align the caucus with a common purpose and specific goals, is the day we start on the road to victory. It enables us to overcome all the traditional objections:
It's no long an "individual" game in Congress. It's a team game and you have to pick the Democratic team or the Republican team. Being a team member must support the party on votes that are designated by party leadership to be key . That is what unity is all about. Members need the leadership to keep hammering this message home. At the end of the day, the voters in that member's region will have a choice between two parties; that will determine who will win. If a member loses because they voted in the best interests of America, so be it. Unify or die. There is no option and this must be rigorously enforced. Everyone must start to walk the talk on the designated core issues and be unified in our criticism of the President and Republicans when they do things that are contrary to our goals.
We should not compromise our principles and move back to the center as DLC/Al From advocates. Paul Wellstone is a great example that people (who just voted for a Republican to replace him) would support and re-elect a Senator who voted consistently with what he believed in. Conversely, California Governor Davis, (a) makes every policy decision based on polling data and trying to maximize his popularity and (b) spent over $50M on his campaign (almost 10 times what his competitor spent) and (c) is an incumbent. The result: (a) lowest vote turnout in California history and (b) Davis almost lost to political neophyte Bill Simon and (c) Davis lost the popular vote in 40 of the 58 counties in California. Playing to the center is a losing strategy and Davis is a perfect example of this. Al Gore has finally realized this too. Gore said, "I think I made a lot of mistakes in 2000, and among them was at times holding back because of respect for the need to have a politically viable set of positions that could attract a majority." Moving to the middle will reduce our choices...do we vote for the bad candidate or the worse candidate? It will also turn races into being about the candidates, rather than the principles that they stand for because the principles of the parties articulated to the public will sound exactly the same. I am college educated, yet I didn't see much of a difference between the parties until I was over 40 years old. Moving in the opposite direction isn't going to make that better.
What you can do: If you are a member of Congress, forward this document to your peers. Having more people that support the process will make it easier for the top leaders to do the job that they must do in order to unify the party. Better would be to stand up with your peers in your next caucus meeting and explain the situation and tell them that you are committed to walking the talk now and invite them to join you. Will anyone stand up and start facing reality and encourage your peers to do the same? Will anyone stand up and start demanding that Pelosi and Daschle start demanding that the Democratic caucus be unified on key issues important to their Democratic constituents? The confirmation of Tom Ridge would be an interesting test case. He's mediocre and national security is top of the American agenda right now. There is absolutely no doubt that opposition is the right strategy. Yet everyone thinks Senate Democrats will vote in favor. Having Democrats all vote to oppose would not only be the right thing to do, but it would also be a symbolic statement that it's no longer "business as usual" and that we might have a chance of winning in 2004.
How it will happen: I'm not sure how it will happen. I don't care how it happens, so long as it does happen. Will a Bill Clinton speeches to the caucus get people to commit? A Clinton call to Daschle? Will it be John Kerry standing up alone in a caucus meeting? John Edwards? Joe Lieberman? Daschle plus all three of them working together would be powerful if they jointly made the case to the caucus. If they don't try, they may win the nomination, but they will not win the Presidency...Bush is way too popular today and without Congress constantly knocking him down and standing up for Democratic constituents, our base won't be energized to go out and vote. One great Presidential candidate is not enough. I'm banking that at least one of them has enough smarts to see this and enough smarts to try to convince his peers to join him in demanding a mindset change of the caucus.
Views on this document: Congress staff members will tell you this can't be done because they can't see that there could possibly be any other way than "business as usual." Objective people on the outside tell me this is all absolutely right on, but that the members of Congress are too set in their ways to make the changes they need to make on their own without leadership and the top Democratic leadership in Congress is too weak to ask for them to make any changes. Therefore, the only way we all win is for one member of Congress to stand up and be a leader and get other members to follow. Who will take the first step?
What I'm doing: Beyond asking members of Congress to start working as a team, I'm asking 5 to 10 experts in each of the 11 areas for their best idea for a vision and a single key goal so that I can provide that list (which can be thought of as a Chinese menu of goal options) to the leadership in Congress as well as the people running for President.
If they pick anything from the list in one or more areas, the country will benefit.
Example 1: Sample energy vision, top goal, key strategies (Note: this is an example, not a proposal)
Example 2: Sample education vision, top goal, key strategies
Great positions abound. On taxes, we can say Republicans are out of touch by giving tax cuts to the poor and tax hikes on the rich, skewing things in the right direction. Or in favor of tax simplification which accomplishes the same goal. On war, we can again say the Republicans are out of touch; instead of an objective that requires sending our kids to die, we should focus on making friends since that will reduce the number of terrorists and their funding sources.
Vision: Something that you'd love to see happen, but you never expect to attain. There is never a time frame since the vision is never achieved. Example" "The US will be powered 100% from domestic renewal resources that are non-polluting" or "Cure every major medical disease" or "Eliminate terrorism".
Goal: Something that is a stretch, but that is achievable, very specific, and measurable. Something that you are willing to be held accountable to achieve. Goals should have importance and meaning and should help you along the way to achieve your vision. Example: "Reduce dependence on foreign oil by 20% by 2020" is a key goal in support of a vision of a future America that is powered from renewables." Goals tend to be very fundamental because they are the most important things to achieving the vision. Goals should be about what you need to achieve, not what is popular with public or "bi-partisan." Republicans tend not to have goals at all because they are driven by a philosophy (such as "less government") and principle ("right to life"), rather than a specific vision of what they are trying to achieve. So for example, "privatizing social security" is a tactic in support of a philosophy of "less government."
Strategy: A method or general approach for achieving a goal. There are generally one or more goals associated with each strategy. So, for example, two strategies for the goal reducing fuel dependence by 20% by 2020 are: (1) "increasing mpg standards" and (2) "offering incentives for fuel cells."
Tactic: A specific measurable goals to accomplish a strategy. Example: tactics associated with strategy (1) above might be: "Increase CAFE standards by 10 mpg by 2010." Note that goals are to visions what tactics are to strategies. Thus, there is a hierarchy: vision, goal, strategy, and tactic.
Principle: A guiding philosophy for making decisions, but not a specific deliverable. Example: "If you work hard, the government will help you" or "Equal opportunity."
Leadership: Articulating a core set of visions and goals and getting people to commit to acting in a manner in support of the goals. Leaders are not afraid of making the hard decisions that will not make everyone happy. Great leaders set goals that are visionary and important. They are consistent over time with goals that do not change and that are constantly articulated over and over again. This is the only way to get people aligned...with consistent, bold, innovative goals that are trying to accomplish great things. Great leaders assess what is really important to the long-term interests of their constituents and get it done, even if it means in the short term pissing off a lot of constituents.
Followership: Letting someone else tell you what is important. For example, Gov. Gray Davis is a great follower. He polls the public on what they want and tries to make everyone happy by trying to appeal to the broadest constituencies so as to maximize his chance of re-election. So instead of personally assessing what needs to be done for California, he tries to minimize the number of voters who will be alienated. Though he believes this maximizes his popularity, it actually does exactly the opposite (as he learned in the last election): he is perceived to be a weak leader because that's exactly what he is. Bush is a follower too. If Americans say want a tax cut, he'll give it to them, even if it isn't in their best interests. If big corporations want a subsidy, he'll give it to them. If religious groups want to stop abortions, he'll be there for them. He'll never ask people to make a sacrifice for their own benefit.
A suggested process
If we are to win, all our candidates and Democratic members of Congress must support a common set goals in the key areas important to the future of America. We must have an "echo effect" on our basic platform or we will surely lose. And we must be unified in our critique of the President. It is only if everyone is saying the same thing that it starts to be believable (see Dionne article below)
Ideally, our Presidential candidates should sing the same tune on the goals, but differentiate themselves to voters on their experience, their track record, their ability to do the job, and specific emphasis, priorities, and their personal choice of strategies and tactics to achieve these goals.
So there must be a set of core issues where everyone is in synch on the goals and high level strategies. Here is a suggested process:
Where we are today
Strong Leadership is key. If it isnít there, you wonít get much done until that changes. And sadly, it isn't there in the US Congress. Examples abound.
Leadership is about making hard choices and doing what needs to be done and having the courage to speak out for what is best for the people you lead. We've seen some examples of this; Pelosi's stand on the war and the Dept of Homeland security are good examples of someone who has the courage to vote in a manner consistent for what is best for the future for all Americans.
But leadership starts with clear visions and clear goals to achieve the vision. We have none of that.
Take Iraq for example. We have no known goal for Iraq. It's not clear why we are there since North Korea does have weapons of mass destruction along with a rogue leader, why aren't they the highest priority? And what would we do in North Korea? What are we trying to achieve? What is our vision for national security? What is our top goal and how will we know when we achieve it? When will it end? What is the finish criteria? The Brazilian representative in the UN said Brazil is more afraid of the US than Iraq. He wasn't kidding.
Leaders focus on what needs to be done, not things that don't need to be done. Take Bush's current #1 priority on creating the Department Homeland Security. That is the wrong focus. It's not about creating a Homeland Security Dept. Israel proved that beefing up your domestic defenses is fruitless against terrorists! And acting unilaterally will create additional attacks and then weíll react by escalating the attacks and beefing up our defenses. Itís a losing cycle. Instead, we should focus on making friends and working as a community to solve world problems. So Bushís focus should be international cooperation and his goal should be about making more friends.
Instead, all we are going to do is shuffle a lot of people around...like musical chairs. Have we forgotten that the biggest mistakes were solely within the FBI itself where FBI superiors denied requests of people in the field to investigate suspicious behavior? We continue to ignore the fact that the FBI still has huge problems in getting people to communicate and cooperate within the FBI itself. All this is confirmed in memos from the top FBI leadership on the front page of today's (November 21, 2002) paper. So since it now more than a year since 9/11 and we still haven't made much progress at all to solve the communication and cooperation problems within the relatively small FBI, what the hell makes us think that it will magically happen in the new, huge Department of Homeland Security???
Microsoft is the most successful, best managed companies on the planet. When they decided to shift their focus to the Internet and make all their products work with the Internet, do you think that they did that by reorganizing the entire company and put everything in a new "Department of Internet Software"? Of course not. That would be ludicrous.
This new Department of Homeland Security doesn't include the FBI or CIA. It's a smokescreen to make it look like progress is happening when it is not. I'll bet things will get worse after this brilliant move. Don't we ever ask ourselves, if it is such a great idea, how is it that no other country is doing it (or even thinking of doing it)? Doesn't anyone remember how this brilliant idea came about? It was NOT by analyzing exactly what went wrong, prioritizing the most critical mistakes, and prioritizing the best solutions from the experts! It was developed in a rush to think of a good government response to a crisis. Didn't anyone ask a panel of expert veterans on corporate and government restructurings what they thought of the idea? Of course not. We aren't even given a list of the top 10 problems we experienced and a justification as to why we have to reorganize 169,000 people to solve those top problems. Didn't we try asking them to cooperate first? Or asking them to listen to each other? We haven't even provided mandatory training on the mistakes and how to avoid this happening again! Wouldn't that be easier and faster and a LOT more effective? Shouldn't we have tried the simple, direct solutions first before we massively re-organize? This is incredible mis-management. In the end, we'll have a huge department that is harder to measure and manage. And finally, there is no test plan to prove to the American people we have made things better. No accountability again, but wasn't Bush the "accountability" President? Aren't there any thinking people left in the Senate? I counted only about 9 left.
A real leader would be against the folly of this Homeland Security Department. This is sheer government waste, but few lack the courage to tell people the truth. Leaders aren't afraid. They would ask what is the real problem we are trying to solve, what solutions are available to us, and which solutions are the most likely to solve the problem in the most efficient manner possible.
The new Republican agenda...stuff like "religious groups delivering government services," etc. We should be unified on our response. We should all be saying "Mr. President, that's an interesting tactic, but what is the goal? What is the pressing problem in America you are trying to solve here? And, in light of our other top issues (education, energy, foreign policy, etc.) is this something that is really that important to the future of America for us to spend our time on?
The worst thing though is finding no national goals in any key area. Bush said Education, #1 most important thing in America, but there is no goal (just a tactic for measurement...but no "success" criteria so we can't hold him accountable like he said we should be doing to our government officials). "No child left behind" isn't a goal either. It's a slogan.
In short, the emperor has no goals. Shouldn't he resign? He said we should hold government accountable. He's completely blown the budget and established no domestic goals. If he were a CEO in business and thus accountable to a board of directors, they would fire his ass immediately for fiscal mismanagement and lack of basic leadership skills (no goals). It sure would be interesting to ask him that question...."if you were on the board of a company where the CEO just did ..., would you fire him?" Since he believes in accountability (like he said he did), he should hold himself accountable and resign.
I spoke with the leaders in Congress and was shocked to learn that nobody had any secret goals either. All short term and tactical thinking. The bottom line is that we have a leadership vacuum in Washington DC. Leadership 101 is having a vision and setting meaningful goals. We have neither nationally in the key areas. We have the capability to solve these problems, but there is no leadership to get it done. The 100 page Cheney energy plan had not a single goal.
We don't have a national vision...I don't know about you, but "lower taxes" and "spend the rest of our lives hunting down terrorists" sure isn't my idea for a vision for the America I want to live in. I'm more of the "best education system in the world," "#1 peacemaker," kinda guy. Lower taxes is the wrong goal. Iíd rather have "higher taxes" and a "booming economy" and a "positive return on my investment portfolio."
Even when there is a shared goal, like reducing our dependence on foreign oil, we find that people are really willing to talk about it, but not willing to make the hard choices required to achieve the goal because they either: (a) donít want to upset anyone, (b) never connect the dots between goal and the choices that are required to meet the goal (which is really easy to do today because neither party holds itself accountable to meeting or even making progress toward achieving their goal because there isn't a goal!), or (c) both.. Higher CAFE standards are absolutely required to achieve fuel independence (how many people know that?), but got voted down even though no jobs would be lost and nobody would have to drive a smaller vehicle. Having a stable set of shared goals gives you a framework to evaluate and justify your votes because it connects the votes with the goals. CAFE was positioned by the Republicans as a choice between big cars vs. little cars and loss of jobs in Detroit. It was never positioned by the Democrats as a choice between reducing our dependence on foreign oil (voting in a manner required to achieve our goal) vs. increasing our dependence (voting in a manner that would ensure our goal would not be attained) because we never had a shared goal (and commitment of members of Congress) of reducing our dependence on foreign oil.
Sadly, this lack of basic leadership is not specific to DC. Happens in the state, happens locally.
The lesson is a basic one: Vision, goals, realistic strategies to accomplish the goals, and commitment to holding yourself accountable to getting it done are the keys to getting anything done. Not hard, but amazing how often it doesn't happen!!!
Leadership is not about taking the path of least resistance. Leadership is about determining what must be done and doing it, even if it means that some people will be upset.
The alternative: moving closer to the center isn't attractive
We should not compromise our principles and move back to the center as DLC/Al From advocates. Paul Wellstone is a great example that people (who just voted for a Republican to replace him) would support and re-elect a Senator who voted consistently with what he believed in. Conversely, California Governor Davis, played the centrist strategy, calculating every decision to maximize his popularity, yet he almost lost to neophyte Bill Simon (Davis only won 18 of the 58 counties).
The result is clear: people respect and will support members who consistently take a stand for what is right for the people they represent and vote in a manner consistent with that stand. Wellstone was 9 points ahead of his challenger when he died.
Al From's argument that "a centrist position would have a broader appeal" is probably not true. Again, Gray Davis is a perfect example....always catering to the middle ground, he pisses everyone who cares off. To be perfectly fair to Al, one way to test this is to create a set of 10 Democratic liberal goals, and a second set of 10 centrist goals, and then do polling. That simple exercise has not been done because there isn't a set of 10 goals from either the liberals or the centrists! Even better would be to list a few centrist goals and the liberal goals for each area, not tell people which is which, ask them to pick one goal for each area, and see how many from each group they select.
The other thing to consider is what positions would motivate people to get out and vote. Even if a majority supported centrist goals (which I doubt), quite a bit less will be motivated by the differences to go vote. I'm going to be a lot less motivated to vote for a party which stands for "clean up the environment, but not at the expense of jobs" or "improve education a little" versus a party that is truly committed to the environment and education and wants to make us #1. Gray Davis again is a perfect example. We had the lowest voter turnout in California history even though Davis walked the line on virtually every issue to avoid upsetting anyone and to appeal to the broadest set of voters.
Give people someone they can trust, someone they can believe in, someone who is consistent, someone with a vision, and someone with real credible plans to achieve grand goals, and you'll have a candidate that people will get excited about.
Remember: what is really important is party unity. If the leadership decides on goals, those are the goals. Whether they are left, right, or centrist is a minor detail. Focus efforts on unification and what the best 10 goals should be. Don't focus efforts on dividing the party.