Sunday, October 22, 2006

What's the Purpose of the Democratic Party?

This isn't a rhetorical question. There are many differing viewpoints, and the answer has some pretty profound implications. I've come to believe that the lack of consensus on the purpose of the Democratic Party is one of the largest barriers that prevents us from having a unified and successful long-term approach to politics. Follow along while explore I this issue and (hopefully) present an answer you'll find intriguing.

I'm a vice-chair in my county Democratic Party here in Wisconsin. We've been trying to update our mission statement, and it's been a lot more difficult than I anticipated. The problem is that nobody agrees on what our purpose is. The "traditionalists" are focussed on elections, and argue that our job is solely to elect more Democrats. The "progressive newbies" (I tend towards this category) want us to focus more on values and issues as a way to build the party. The "sages" believe that both elections and issues are important, and want some sort of middle ground, but don't seem to be able to define what it should be.

(If any of my friends on the board are reading this, I know I'm simplifying a complex discussion. Please forgive me)

We don't agree on our purpose, so we can't agree on our priorities. Sound familiar? This debate plays out in one form or another in almost every discussion about the Democratic Party. We pretty much all want the same basic things, but our differing backgrounds and expectations keep us from reaching the common ground we need to succeed.

Just in case you don't realize this, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin is different from most state parties in that it's a membership organization. Although membership is open to anyone, you have to pay yearly dues to be a Party member. But once you've joined you get to vote directly for your county Party leaders, and you can become a delegate to the state convention to vote for state Party leaders.

I've thought about this problem from many different angles, and for me it always comes back to the reasons that most people join the Democratic Party of Wisconsin in the first place. It usually isn't to elect Democratic candidates. If that's their priority they just get involved with individual campaigns. And it usually isn't issues, because there are issue groups that are far more active and involved in any given issue than the Party could ever be.

It almost always comes down to the big picture. The common values that we share as Democrats. And the belief that through joining the Party, they can advance those values. So with that in mind here's my definition of the purpose of the Democratic Party:

The purpose of the Democratic party is to turn the views and values of its members into public policy.

This simple definition encompasses both elections and issues without elevating one above the other. It's provides a framework to weigh all Party activities against our long-term goals as expressed by our members in our platform and resolutions. And it provides the flexibility to evolve and change tactics as necessary to reach those goals.

So chew on that, and let me know what you think...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That hits it on the head and is a good distillation of our last night's discussion at DFW meetup. Thanks for all you do Russell.