Saturday, August 25, 2012

Win hearts. Win minds. Win elections.

What can a politician, or a political party, say is their mission?

I work at a university, and occasionally I find myself in a discussion about mission statements.  For example, here is the mission statement of my employer, Grand Valley State University:  "Grand Valley State University educates students to shape their lives, their professions, and their societies. The university contributes to the enrichment of society through excellent teaching, active scholarship, and public service."  I like to believe that GVSU actually tries to live up to this public statement.  As faculty, we certainly discuss whether a colleague is an "excellent teacher" or pursues "active scholarship" at tenure and promotion time.

Some people think mission statements and their friends (e.g. vision, values, strategic plans) are a lot of baloney, but there is something to be said about sitting still and thinking carefully about what a person or an organization is trying to accomplish.  If nothing else, it leads to an understanding of what to pay attention to.

So, if you are the Republican or Democratic party, what is your mission?  If you are trying to change the laws of a state or our country, to fit your ideology or philosophy, you need to win elections first.  Some politicians are too focused on this fact, and end up spending all their time fundraising and pandering, as they see this as the path to election.  Others are so purely wrapped up in their ideology that they develop an "I'd rather be right than be elected" mentality.  But if you want to govern, you have to get elected first.

Being elected is not sufficient, though.  Politics is also about persuading citizens to come to your way of thinking.  This can be done on an emotional level.  This can be done on an intellectual level.  But it must be done!  And political parties that are effective in persuasion can set the tone for decades in society.  It seems to me the Democrats, led by FDR, were great at this in the 1930's, and into the 1960's, while the Republicans have been much more effective the past thirty years, starting with Reagan and helped by Limbaugh and Fox News.

Putting all these ideas into a simple mission statement?  How about:  Win hearts.  Win minds.  Win elections.

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