Grand Old Rethinking

Posted on Dec 28, 2012 | 11 Comments

Whether a four-point defeat in the presidential popular vote justifies the intense soul-searching of today’s Republican Party is a question we’ll leave to well-paid political consultants, but the phenomenon of institutional soul-searching more broadly is another story.

According to a recent article by David J. Lynch in Bloomberg Businessweek, Republicans have relied too long on a formula of tax cutting and have only belatedly woken up to their loss of market share. Today, “the Republican Party resembles the Democratic Party of a few decades ago: clinging to the old and wary of the new,” Lynch writes. “As Republicans quarrel over whether to move toward the middle or stay firmly on the right, some party leaders are retracing their steps to figure out how they lost the spark of the Reagan years—and how they can get it back.”

In short, these Republicans are rethinking what Peter Drucker called the “theory of the business,” the core set of assumptions about one’s mission and one’s customers (in this case voters and campaign donors).  The theory of the business is a concept we’ve written about many times (see here and here and here for a few samples), because it is so central to Drucker’s work. The theory of the business in use by the GOP—involving a promise of lower taxes and less government—can be said to date back to 1981, and it was robust enough to win Republicans the White House in five of seven subsequent elections.

But “very few definitions of the purpose and mission of a business have anything like a life expectancy of 30, let alone 50, years,” Drucker warned in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. “To be good for 10 years is probably all one can normally expect.”

In any case, whatever Republicans come up with, it’s likely to fall short of Drucker’s greater hope: that some thinker or group of thinkers would enunciate “a theory of what government can do.”

As Drucker explained in Managing in a Time of Great Change, it’s been a long time since anyone looked at the issue in sufficient depth. “No major political thinker—at least not since Machiavelli, almost 500 years ago—has addressed this question,” Drucker lamented. “All political theory, from Locke on through The Federalist Papers and down to the articles published by today’s liberals and conservatives, deals with the process of government. . . . None asks what the proper functions of government might be and could be.”

In short, Drucker felt that fundamentally rethinking government was imperative. “The new political theory we badly need will have to rest on an analysis of what does work rather than on good intentions and promises of what should work because we would like it to,” he wrote. “Rethinking will not give us the answers, but it might force us to ask the right questions.”

What do think: How should the Republican Party—or any party out of power—go about rethinking itself?


  1. Richad Ayala
    December 28, 2012

    Having studied Constitutional Law, all three political parties are corrupt and they know it. For that matter, all three branches of the government are corrupt. We can thank our legal profession and judicial system for the coming death of a Constitutional America as we know it, embracing a wave of socialism under all three political parties. There is no distinction between the three parties; only the illusion given to the population that there are philosophical differences, when in reality there is no difference.

  2. Arvid Raulinaitis
    December 28, 2012

    Richad, the only small point on which I’ll disagree with you on is that in my opinion the Democrats will bring us to that ruin sooner because they explicitly and openly espouse policies that are closer to socialistic than those the Republicans claim to espouse.

  3. Richard B. Mann, PhD
    December 28, 2012

    In the US we have gone from a “CAN DO” culture, to a “TAKE CARE OF ME” culture. I will have more to say later, but for now, Ben Franklin said it best:

    “Once the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the Republic.” – Benjamin Franklin

    The recent election is proof!

  4. Mike Grayson
    December 29, 2012

    In short, I don’t think the the Republican Party needs to rethink itself. It’s an irrelvant question because they control the House. They gained power in 2010 and retained it in 2012. So they are hardly “out of power”. In fact, their current power is what is causing so much discussion about the “fiscal cliff”. It is disappointing to see the media and those in power painting the GOP as obstructionist – but that is how they play the political game.

    Having two parties in power is the strength of our government – the ability to balance decision making by forcing differing opinions and coming up with the best solution.

    It’s no secret that federal debt is a huge problem and when combined with entitlement programs, we are put on path similar to Greece. The future of the economy is a tough problem. We should expect a lot of debate and compromise in coming up with good decisions. If compromise can only be reached at the last minute, so be it.

  5. Bryan
    December 29, 2012

    I am in agreement with most of the conservative/libertarian segment of the GOP. The GOP principles are stronger than ever with much of the base i.e. the Tea Party segment. What disappointed me most in the last election was how low the turnout was ( a very significant decline for those supporting Obama but significant enough decline from those supporting the GOP also that Obama was still re-elected). We don’t hear much about the turnout but I believe Obama was down 10 or so million while the GOP support declined about 2 or so. Which decline is more significant as to support for the policies and practices of each party?

  6. Dave Coffaro
    December 29, 2012

    The Republican Party has drifted from values it held as core (smaller government, minimal involvement in people’s lives and national strength through economic power) and created disconnects with many constituents by taking controversial social positions (by definition, creating a conflict with the value of minimal involvement in individuals’ lives). The Party needs to ask questions Peter would have asked – who is our customer (in this case, constituent), what do they value and how does our party provide it. As evidence of this disconnect, I reference exit polls showing what I interpret as a value proposition that didn’t resonate with the target audience. Polls said that the majority of voters (those choosing Obama and those that voted for Romney) viewed Romney as a stronger leader and better qualified to deal with the economy, the deficit and the debt. Still Romney lost and I beleive the perception that he didn’t “connect” with the average voter really means he didn’t present a compelling value proposition. To appeal to a broad, diverse marketplace of voters in the future, Republicans must develop a compelling value propsition.

  7. Alba Patricia Valencia
    December 29, 2012

    The new political theory that we so need it, will must rest in principles of congruence and consistency between being and act. I think it’s important to understand the essence of politics. It is the power to weave illusions that appear real as long as they last. That is the very core of the political power. Of course, not everyone is instinctively against this illusion-weaving power, and many welcome it. They are forces driving the population mass.

    Everyone to rest in an economic system, and our reality is another. Money is crucial for survival. It is necessary for maintaining a free society. In another hand, a healthy economy depends on it.

    The complexity of the monetary system suffers the most, because while some reap big profits others are going down. Only an understanding of how the monetary system works can correct this problem and protect the victims caught in a vicious economic downturn.

    Only an understanding of how the monetary system works we can correct many problems, but the authorities and/or our leaders remain oblivious to the fact. Both political powers are only making our problems worse in the long run.

    La nueva teoría política que tanto necesitamos, debe descasar en principios de congruencia y consistencia entre el ser y el actuar. Pienso es importante entender la esencia de la política. Es el poder de tejer ilusiones que parecen reales mientras duran. Esa es la esencia misma del poder político. Por supuesto, no todo el mundo está instintivamente en contra de la ilusión del tejido de poder, otros le dan la bienvenida. Son fuerzas que mueven la masa poblacional.

    Todo descansa en un sistema económico y nuestra realidad es otra. El dinero es crucial para la supervivencia. Es necesario para el mantenimiento de una sociedad libre. En otro lado, una economía sana depende de ello.

    La complejidad del sistema monetario sufre mucho, ya que mientras algunos cosechar grandes ganancias otros están a la baja.

    Sólo con la comprensión de cómo funciona el sistema monetario podemos corregir muchos problemas, pero las entidades y/o nuestros líderes siguen siendo ajenos al hecho. Ambos poderes políticos están haciendo peores nuestros problemas en el largo plazo.

  8. Mike Harmanos
    December 31, 2012

    2008 popular vote:
    Voting Eligible Turnout – 61.6%
    Obama – 69,498,516
    McCain – 59,948,323

    2012 popular vote:
    Voting Eligible Turnout – 59.2%
    Obama – 65,899,660
    Romney – 60,932,152

    Source: Federal Election Commission for 2008, Wikipedia for 2012 (Votes are still officially being counted for 2012)

    As a percentage of GDP, truly the most accurate portrayal of all government’s take (federal, state, and local) relative to the rest of the economy, consider the following:

    1978 – 31.58%
    1982 – 36.31%
    1985 – 35.48%
    1991 – 37.22%
    1998 – 32.56%
    2005 – 34.83%
    2009 – 42.83%
    2011 – 40.51%


    Historically, are we above average? Absolutely. Is 35% a more realistic target of the size of “Leviathan?” Given what we want in society – a robust military, entitlements for senior citizens, corporate welfare at record levels ($92 billion in FY 2006 – Source: Cato Institute), infrastructure, and education, 35% is about the best mark we can get.

    I posted Drucker’s thoughts back in January about “the needed government turnaround.” It’s in the link above. In that link, I reminded what Drucker said in “Post-Capitalist Society” that “Governments are powerless to stop special interests.” That’s the modern face of government – a gigantic standoff between entrenched special interests that even Drucker admits cannot be stopped.

    Special interests are merely the organized reflection of what society wants. Let’s start admitting some reality and using real numbers first. Then we can determine what the best functions of government are.

  9. Rocco DellaNeve
    January 1, 2013

    Now that the US is throroughly Europeanized, conservatives may be relegated to promising to run big government better, which only slows down the inevitable collapse of spending versus taxes. There have been many articles written about the success of Swedish conservative approaches which focus on effective services.

  10. Pierce Inverarity
    January 2, 2013

    Side note to put Drucker’s intellectual bona fides in context:

    “All political theory, from Locke on through The Federalist Papers and down to the articles published by today’s liberals and conservatives, deals with the process of government. . . . None asks what the proper functions of government might be and could be.”

    Which is to say, Drucker has no idea what political theory _is_ and hasn’t read any in at least 30 years. Just three names out of dozens will prove the point: John Rawls, Robert Nozick, Jürgen Habermas.

    An aggressively ignorant assertion.

  11. Pierce Inverarity
    January 2, 2013

    A side note to put Drucker’s intellectual bona fides in context:

    “All political theory, from Locke on through The Federalist Papers and down to the articles published by today’s liberals and conservatives, deals with the process of government. . . . None asks what the proper functions of government might be and could be.”

    This is, to put it mildly, an aggressively ignorant assertion. Three names out of dozens will prove the point: John Rawls, Robert Nozick, Jürgen Habermas. Mr. Drucker either doesn’t know what political theory *is*, or he hasn’t read any in at least thirty years.


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