Dear Democratic Party, You’re Fired
I wrote this after the election and didn’t publish, but ahead of the important meetings of the Democratic Party I thought it was still relevant.
Dear Democratic Party,
You’re fired. The travesty of the Presidential election is just one small sign of the repudiation of the Democratic Party by our electorate. Yes, finger pointing attempted to place the blame elsewhere — Hillary ignored the white working class vote, she was a damaged candidate, James Comey is to blame, etc. etc.
The evidence of the death of the Democratic Party is far broader than the Presidential election, or the failure to regain the Senate, or the fact that you have only had control of the House twice in the past 14 terms. Republicans now control 67 of the country’s 98 partisan legislative chambers. That is a whopping 68 percent. Republicans also now control 66 percent, or 33 of the 50 governorships. Democratic Party, let’s face it. The electorate doesn’t like you. Period.
You may be in denial, or believe that small tinkering will fix what ails you. Hillary won the popular vote right? It is a hollow victory at best. It is the equivalent of Stephen Curry winning a basketball shootout against a 6 year old by one point. It is an embarrassment of massive proportion. The overall repudiation of the Democratic Party is even more astonishing when you consider that a majority of voters supports Democratic Party policies and values in many different areas:
· Voters overwhelmingly support raising the minimum wage and did so in four additional states this year
· 56 percent believe in a women’s right to choose
· 83 percent want to close the loopholes for purchasing guns without background checks for private and gun show sales
· In study after study more than 50 percent of voters believed climate change is real and should be a priority for Congress and the President
You may continue to be deluded into thinking that the demographics will eventually not only turn in your favor but actually result in a majority of votes going your way. But as this election has shown, you cannot bet the outcome on voter turnout for select groups, and as long as Republicans control the state legislatures, gerrymandering and voter suppression initiatives will reduce your chances. Who is to say that immigrants and Millennials are or will stay blue either? When 29 percent of Hispanics vote for a man who did not court them and did everything to reject their vote, what will happen when a Republican candidate actively attempts to win them over?
So the party is dead, or at best on life support. Placing the blame on the Republican Party doesn’t really help either. Trump’s ‘Drain the Swamp’ chant was as powerful a rallying cry to his voters as any of the terrible things he said about Hillary, Blacks, Muslims, Mexicans, and Women. Unfairly or not, because the DP is seen as the party of big government we get disproportionally blamed for the swamp in DC.
When companies are on life support, heading toward bankruptcy and certain death, transforming them into profitable companies with products that consumers want to buy is no small feat. There is a playbook for the rare case where a company rises from the ashes and humbly I offer it to you, Democratic Party, because we desperately need a counterweight to what has hit this country since January 20th.
1. Do the brutally honest diagnostic. Already there are thoughtful ideas on the change needed to the Democratic Party. However, when large companies are this deeply in trouble they must step back before they can go forward. They develop an independent assessment of what ails them across the board — capabilities, product, leadership, mission and purpose. In conducting such an assessment the DP should invite its members, activists, and the general population to share their views, as well as do an outside-in assessment of itself relative to the Republican Party at the state and federal level. This diagnostic must also include an attempt to deeply understand the entire electorate and what will motivate them to the polls and to change their attitudes and beliefs about the Democratic Party.
2. Develop a Change Vision. Companies undergoing a transformation need a vision for both the change needed AND the end state they are trying to achieve. At a minimum Democratic Party we need a vision from you that addresses the societal shifts that have caused under and unemployment of large swaths of workers, as well as significant income redistribution toward the wealthy. We also need a vision for this country that includes the technology innovation we are known for and a way to ensure this innovation can benefit a wider segment of society. You must continue to fight for the rights of women, minorities, and our LGBQ family and friends. But you have to fight for everyone’s economic prosperity, and define a vision that does this. Finally your change vision has to address how you will behave differently to restore faith in our politicians and government.
3. Innovate the Product. At the core we have a product that no one wants to buy. Our schools don’t work yet your solutions are incremental or top-down at best. We make tangible but still timid changes to minimum wage when many workers have lost jobs paying much more. We are the party of the technology entrepreneurs, but have remained resistance to unleashing its benefits within Government and to our citizens. We have no moonshot to capture the imagination of our populace. Our product must and should address the ways in which democracy is failing us — the poor voter turnout, the massive amounts of money and influence it can buy in our democracy, and the gerrymandering. The product we need is a wholesale rethink of the Party platform and programs that we aspire to deliver to voters.
4. Turn it into a Plan. Once you have a vision and a product you need a coherent strategy for realizing it. Successful turnarounds typically create a strategic plan that balances a combination of quick wins and initiatives that aim for more fundamental change. They also go at the core issues identified in the diagnostic. Do you want to make Washington work again? How? How are you going to use technology to make government potentially smaller and better? How are you going to build the bench of leaders who can get elected at state and local levels? How are you going to harness the passion and purpose of our young activists and turn it into votes and elected leaders? And how are you going to organize yourself and your affiliated think tanks, political organizations and nonprofits to get all of this done?
5. Change starts at the top. I think the one thing we can all agree on is that you, our Democratic Leadership, failed us. Leadership that delivers continuing losses at the state and federal level, much less this stunning defeat against a man who even the electorate said was less qualified to be President, deserves to be fired. This is what happens when a company fails. Despite their service to our country, the Clintons (loved you Hillary) and their cadre of advisors whose leaked gossipy email was unseemly need to go. So too does our current House of Representative leadership (sorry Nancy) and the Senate leadership (glad you retired Harry). I am also talking about our DNC, and the inside Washington beltway lobbyists and influence peddlers. Give the party to the next generation and to folks willing to break old alliances, develop new ideas for the new world order, and ruffle some feathers along the way.
6. Positioning matters. It remains puzzling to all of us how the Right continues to brand us, and own all that we are — hard working, patriotic, religious (or not, but we don’t judge), family oriented, future oriented. And even though the terms progressive and liberal are dirty words to a wide swath of the populace we continue to insist that we define ourselves that way. You need first to understand the old world order is gone and the solutions we need for this 21st century don’t fit neatly into a neo-liberal, liberal, progressive, or conservative narrative. Why use one? Whatever changes we make to our product or our party, unless we can better position who we are we will be facing an uphill battle.
So Democratic Party, I hope you start thinking about how to radically re-invent yourself. You don’t need to be Republican-light, like you were in the 1990s when you passed those crime and welfare bills. You don’t need to start an internecine battle between the liberal and progressive factions that will fall on the deaf ears of the folks you are trying to serve. You need a rebirth — a 21st Century party for a 21st century world. We can do our part too. We need to turn our social activism into actual votes, and for those of us who look down on the voters who have kicked us out of local, state, and federal elected office, we need to sit humbly down and listen and learn whether and how we can best serve them given our values and ideals. Yes, we can do all of that, but first Democratic Party it is your turn. You will go from being fired to being obsolete if you don’t radically change, and we need you.