Roger Wolfson is a former Senate aide (Kerry, Lieberman, Wellstone, and Ted Kennedy) and current TV writer (Law and Order: SVU, The Closer, Saving Grace) who has written speeches for members of Congress, Senators, Governors, and Presidential candidates.
Here’s my hope. That those of you who watch this on TV, or find this video online, please recommend it to the first Republican you can think of. Because I’m trying to do something that is increasingly rare in this day and age. I’m trying to reach across the aisle. Across the great and unfortunate divide of this nation.
I’m inspired by a great American experiment from years back, something called the Pepsi Challenge. Where Pepsi had the brilliant idea to go into malls and fairs and town centers, set up a card table, pour some Pepsi and Coke into unlabeled paper cups, then let consumers with already established brand loyalty discover for themselves which product they actually preferred.
Kind of an intriguing idea, wasn’t it? First, the challenge removed all labels and identifiers from the two dominate players in an American arena where choices are traditionally based on entrenched habit, commonality, and loyalty. Where preferences are passed down from parent to child, parent to child. Where one brand is signified by the color red; the other by the color Blue. The challenge distilled both brands down to their unadorned essence, taking Americans behind the curtain of image, appearance, and – indeed – ideology. Only then, did the challenge asked them to choose.
The analogy seems to work politically, too. Both political parties have distinct, refined brands, fashioned over the years by brilliant people at great expense. They’ve been focus-grouped and sold to the American people at a cost of billions of dollars a year. The result is: we think that the differences between the parties are personal differences. We are taught to think that there is something wrong with people who affiliate with the “other” party. We come up with ways to separate ourselves from them. Increasingly, most of the people in our neighborhood, our workplace, our schools – and certainly our Congressional districts – belong to our party, not the other.
We drink Coke. Or we drink Pepsi.
But when is the last time any of us asked ourselves what the point of a political party really is? Is it a means of allowing us to stand apart from others? Is it a means of broadcasting our personal set of individual preferences? Or – is the point of a political party to present an effective method of governing our Nation?
As much as brands like Coke and Pepsi may want you to think that their products can define your persona and set you apart from others, isn’t the purpose of drinking a soft drink really just to quench your thirst in an appetizing way? And as much as political parties may want you to believe that belonging to a party is a great way to define who you are, isn’t the purpose of a political party to govern well?
So I decided to put together a challenge for myself. Simply put, I do believe that the purpose of a political party is to govern, effectively. And effective government, as it turns out, is something that can be measured.
So, I asked a bipartisan group of researchers to come up with metrics that define effective governance and put together this test. And I’m going to take that test now. I invite you to join me. As you can see, I have two blank cups here. I’m going to ask a short series of questions that have nothing to do with image, that only have to do with results. I’ll keep track of my answers, and I ask that you do the same.
I’m going to call this the Party challenge.
First up. The economy – perhaps the most important political issue for most Americans. One simple, clear, and relatively accepted measure of whether the government is managing the economy effectively is whether the stock market goes up or down while a party is in power. As it turns out, over the last fifty years, one political party has had a significantly better impact on the stock market than the other. So – without knowing which party is which, are you the kind of person who prefers the stock market go up? Yes or no?
Another important indicator of effective governance is the ability to balance the budget. Over the last fifty years, one party has slowed the increase of the deficit, and even created a surplus, much more often and consistently than the other party. So – do you prefer the government balance the budget? Yes or no?
How about education. Under the rule of one party, American students have increased their level of excellence in relation to the rest of the world, while under the rule of the other party, our students have lowered their standing. Do you prefer American students to do better in comparison with students around the world?
Now we come to the middle class. Are you the kind of person who prefers the American middle class to grow – without causing any harm to the wealthy?
On a related note, do you prefer the incomes of working families to go up?
Now let’s take a question that addresses our values. Some values actually can be measured numerically. For example, there are some states that are traditionally Democratic and other states that are traditionally Republican. And in one set of those states, divorce rates and teen births are lower than the other. Based on your values, do you prefer that divorce rates and teen births stay down?
OK. If you said no to a majority of these questions, then you are aligned with the party written on the back of this cup, here. If you said yes to a majority of these questions – like I did – then wherever you are from, whatever you believe, and however you have voted in the past – you (and I) are actually aligned with what the party written on the back on this cup has actually done.
(Reveal it’s the Democrats).
No judgment. No advertising. Just facts, the source of which you can find posted on my website. Over the last fifty years, under Democratic Presidents, with Democratic Congresses, the stock market has risen higher and remained stronger than when we have Republican Presidencies and Republican Congressional control. The Government has actually spent less money. American Students have done better compared to their international counterparts, the Middle Class has grown more rapidly or at least declined less rapidly, with no loss in value for the wealthy, and the incomes of working families have risen faster, or declined less.
So – can we all ask ourselves – does it really matter what a political party’s brand says about that party? Or should it matter more what that party actually does?
We’ve gone to war less often when under Democratic control. Our deficit has grown less, or even been turned into a surplus, under Democratic control. Our trade deficit has grown less, too, meaning we’ve done better compared to the rest of the world.
Are you against crime? Violent crime is lower in states under Democratic rule, and goes down nation-wide under Democrat rule. Which matters more to you – the amount of taxes you pay, or the amount of money you end up with after taxes? Because while nationally taxes may go up under Democratic rule, actual take-home pay rises even faster. Are you for jobs? Over the last fifty years, Democratic Presidents have created twice as many jobs as Republican Presidents.
The results are clear. There are many reasons, and may differences in approach, that lead to those results. But to me, the simplest reason is perhaps the most important. I don’t believe Democrats are better or smarter or more patriotic or more principled than Republicans. But Democrats, even if they have reservations about the government, tend not to hate or disparage the Government, like so many of my friends do, even respectfully so, in the Republican party.
We all agree that the government works for us. It’s our employee. Let me ask the small business owners among us: who is the better manager – the one who dislikes his employees? Or the one who respects, seeks to understand, and seeks to work with his employees? And – which manager is going to consistently get better results?
I put it to you, I put it to my colleagues, I put it to all of us. Take this challenge. Ignore the commercials, the advertising, the slogans. Focus on the results. It is perhaps the greatest act of courage to set aside our pre-conceived notions, especially those we consider to be defining characteristics. I’m asking that level of bravery. I’m asking for your valuable minds and valiant efforts. Because this country isn’t getting any younger – none of us are – and we don’t need branding, anymore. We don’t need divisiveness anymore. We need help, we need results, and we need you.