If I were to measure culpability — that is, responsibility for the failure of our side — I’d say the new tea party type activists are the least to blame. Even though few of them have much of a clue about what genuine activism is (it’s reaching the uninformed and misinformed), they haven’t exactly had a lot of successful examples to follow. The Republican and conservative political establishment that preceded them have been mostly AWOL when it comes to effective outreach to the uninformed and misinformed.
Next on the list of the wall of shame would be those Americans who are still content to turn over the running of their country to people who are a mix of incompetent and confused. You can’t delegate citizenship, but nevertheless they do, proving that Plato is still right in that no one who tries to shirk their responsibility should be surprised to learn they’re being governed by their inferiors.
In this list we’re moving towards those with the most blame for the condition of the country and next up are those who work inside the Republican and conservative political industrial complex. This includes everyone from the elected officials and their staffs to those who run campaigns, and work for think tanks and other issue advocacy type organizations. I’ve watched these people for many years — they mostly resemble gerbils running at various speeds on variously sized wheels.
Those I hold most responsible for the failure of Republicans and conservatives are those who possess the personal wealth to be able to fund the fixes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a wealth-basher. I thank God that today there are men and women who can play the role that Haym Solomon and Robert Morris played during the Revolutionary War.
My complaint is with what these men and women of means actually do once they enter the political fray. I’ve addressed much of this already in these articles:
Recently I had the opportunity to talk with an accomplished fundraiser who is a longtime veteran of the political arena. It was heartening to hear that I’m not alone in being frustrated with the mindset that dominates Republican and conservative politics. Her complaints extended even beyond them to those who write checks to support the right of center political industrial complex. Frankly, she sounded as if she’d been reading this website. She hadn’t been — she arrived at where any thinking person does when they take a close look at the political big picture.
This fundraiser told me about the amazing lack of imagination on the part of Republican and conservative rich guys and gals. While they’re tired of backing losing candidates and ineffective ventures, they are incapable of responding favorably to the good ideas that do reach them. Instead of acting as “angel investors,” they hide behind doing more (or less!) of the same — even though they aren’t expecting a different result.
Here’s how I would advise these would-be Solomons and Morrises. First, they should not be afraid of conflict. If their chief aim is to avoid “divisiveness,” then I’d suggest they think a little about the nature of the arena they’re seeking to provide support for. Competition in the private sector — even ruthless competition inside companies — isn’t uncommon. Since human nature is the same inside and outside of politics, why would anyone see politics as a place of sweetness and light?
Second, they should think about output. In business it’s profits. In politics, it’s public opinion. If the target of your support isn’t getting the job done, then it’s time to reconsider whether your money is being spent properly. Funding endless research and commentary and feckless campaigns has its limits. It might be time to (again, as Steve Jobs might say) think differently and learn about the nature of the information war.
Lastly, I’d encourage them to realize that politics is much more akin to engineering than it is to finger painting. Anyone can get their hands messy and call it art. Some even succeed in selling their work. But an engineer has to get it right. If they’re wrong, they won’t get any new bridge contracts if the bridges they’ve built previously have all collapsed. Look at the win/loss record of those seeking donations and consider whether they’re just con men looking for their next payday. Instead, consider the possibility that innovation in politics is possible.