Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Breaking the Chains of Political Groupthink

Over the past century, nearly every part of our society has been fundamentally changed by technological and social evolutions.  Ground transportation, air travel, the way we communicate, the type of wars we fight, everything.

Everything, that is, except the two party political system.  It remains as entrenched as when our two modern parties were formed in the nineteenth century.  This is both remarkable and disturbing.  Remarkable because it showcases the power of the Establishment.  Disturbing because one would think the organizations driving our government would adapt to the societal imperatives around them.

The past two decades have seen a decentralization and democratization of ideas hardly fathomed during the Cold War era.  A culture of entrepreneurship and innovation has captured the imagination of many in my generation, and where once young people thought change could be wrought through political means, starting a company or social group is now seen as more effective.  Ad hoc partnerships between disparate industries are the norm -- why shouldn't our political solutions contain a hybrid of the best ideological solutions?

This isn't to say the parties themselves haven't adapted to changing mores.  They have.  The platform of the GOP or Democratic Party of the 1940s is very different from the ones today.  In some respects, the continued existence of both parties shows remarkable resilience in the face of unanticipated change. 

So Do Established Parties...
But there is increasing unrest and discontent with the political status quo.  And as dissension begins to mount, particularly in the form of defections, Establishmentarians declare the apostasy of anyone who dare think differently about the American political duopoly

The most recent example of this is Nathan Fletcher, a young, rising GOP star running for mayor of San Diego.  A week ago, he declared his break with partisan politics, and changed his registration from Republican to "declines to state."  Somewhat surprisingly for a rather small and sleepy market like San Diego, this defection got national exposure.

David Brooks, the moderate conservative New York Times columnist, explored Nathan's story.  Nathan appeared on CNN and MSNBC's Hardball to discuss his newfound independence.  And while these outlets have focused on the disruption to Republicans in California, they miss the fact that Nathan was leaving the entirety of partisan politics behind.  He wants to disrupt the very nature of how we look at solving problems through government.

There seems to be universal incredulity that a "rising star" who could one day "lead the state party" would give all that up.  As if politics was merely about the accumulation of power and self-aggrandizement.  Even the media can't fathom someone who advocates results, not politics.  The voters know better: Nathan ended up raising over $50,000 unsolicited dollars from more than 30 states in days - for a California mayoral race!

His six minute video never once mentions the Republican Party.  Instead, it focuses on finding solutions, not based in ideology, but based on pragmatism and ideas from everybody:

One of the primary criticisms that Nathan has faced from party chieftans is that he merely harbored sour grapes at not getting the GOP endorsement in March.  And while this is perhaps somewhat valid, it too, completely misses the point.

When revolutionaries can't work through established systems, their drive is no less intense.  They are not the types to give up.  Their belief in what they stand for is the very thing that makes them so driven.  To give up and simply walk home would be antithetical to their entire being.

How Could He leave the Party?
Was it sour grapes when the American colonists didn't get what they wanted from the British parliament in the 1770s?  Should they have just shrugged their shoulders and given up when they couldn't work through the establishment?  Was the Revolutionary War simply a temper tantrum because the colonists didn't get their way?  There were those in the Colonies who believed this, and went back to England.  200 years later, America took the mantle of global leadership from a decimated British Empire. 

What about Google?  After being rejected by a slew of venture capital firms, was it craven of them to go with an organization that finally believed in their cause?  Google now dominates internet search.

How about J.K. Rowling?  Was she simply leaving in a huff by signing with a little known publisher after the big firms rejected her first Harry Potter novel?  Her books are now worldwide bestsellers and encompass an empire worth billions of dollars. 

In all these cases, the establishment didn't understand the transformations taking place, and since they were secure in their citadels, felt no compulsion to entertain the ideas of disruptive upstarts.  They were all proven wrong by history.  Our culture extols their independence and bravery in stepping into the unknown.  Why not the same with political leaders who forge the same path?

California is also unique in the way it now conducts primary elections.  Instead of each party holding separate elections to determine a candidate for the general in November, the June election is a "Jungle primary."  This means that all candidates are mixed together, with the top two vote getters, regardless of party, moving on if no one gets an outright majority.  This is a system in which Independence may be a virtue rather than a hindrance.

Some have also claimed he is a flip flopper, not adhereing to a set of core principles.  Yet, not one issue has changed on his platform -- the only thing different about Nathan Fletcher's principles are that he calls himself an Independent rather than a Republican.  And this difference is truly the least relevant if what a voter wants is actual results, not blind party allegiance.

I can empathize with Nathan on this point.  A few months ago I officially left the GOP, a party I loved and worked for, to become an independent.  Of course, my defection hardly amounted to a hill of beans in this crazy world, but it was a big step for me.

Not one of my core beliefs changed.  But no longer was I constrained in supporting seemingly contradictory policies, and could instead advocate for what I truly believed in.  I didn't have to approach conversations with friends who assumed they knew all that I advocated simply because I said I was a Republican.  I was free to advocate for true immigration reform and less defense spending.  The freedom from the party straightjacket was energizing.

How do I make assumptions about you then?
And it also allowed me to fully embrace the fact that I have remarkable, talented and incredibly intelligent friends who were across the aisle from me.  I could freely integrate their brilliant ideas with my own, refining my own view of the world and making it more complete.  This is the crux of what Nathan's (and Ronald Reagan's...) message truly is:

"There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit."

Politics today is defined by who can claim credit, and who gets saddled with the blame.  It is ridiculous and petty to score points by pointing the finger instead of collectively coming up with solutions.

You can have your partisan bickering and trench warfare stalemate.  As for me and my house, I'm looking for innovative, creative and revolutionary solutions from all quarters.  The Nathan Fletcher types are the ones who change the world, even if they end up losing a race or two because they rowed to their own beat.

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