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Jerry Leichtling Headshot

Toward A Purpose Driven Party

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Although I grew up Jewish in New York, when I played in various bluegrass bands one of my favorite songs was "We Need A Whole Lot More of Jesus (And A Lot Less Rock and Roll.") This, despite the fact that I loved rock and roll and had no use for Jesus, other than an appreciation that He had inspired a multitude of fabulous songs. There's often good to be found in contradiction; you can ignore Jesus if you love the song.

I feel much the same about the Rev. Rick Warren delivering the invocation at the Inauguration of President Obama. Putting aside concerns about separation of Church and State (Christopher Hitchens was never on the short list of potential invokers) there's enormous benefit to the Democratic Party in reaching out to millions of affirmed American Christians. That's where the votes are. The insult and betrayal felt by many Democrats (myself included) committed to pro-choice, gay rights and anti-creationism ideals is heartfelt and legitimate, albeit somewhat misplaced. In fact, hordes of evangelicals are braying about Warren's betrayal of their ideals in consorting with the enemy. It would be unfortunate if the Warren brouhaha inadvertently resurrected those matters as time-tested Republican wedge issues. (Would you prefer Gavin Newsom, whose well-meaning but demented sense of timing helped lose the 2004 election for John Kerry, give the invocation?)

In the mindset of Pastor Warren and, by definition, all evangelicals, this is a great proselytizing opportunity. It should equally be a transformative, proselytizing moment for Democrats -- there's a bigger strategy to be played out; it's a path to lasting power that springs from more than simple inclusiveness and acknowledges some (though definitely not all) the real ideas, rhetoric and actions that inspired and have sprung from the "Purpose Driven" creed.

Twenty months ago I went to Washington anticipating a bitter series of primary battles that had the potential to thoroughly rend and defeat the Democratic Party. In conversations with a number of influential Democrats, I broached the idea of creating a party-driven agenda that addressed the upcoming battle for swing votes. This was before the economy superseded virtually all other issues, before the "Surge" in Iraq, and before Sen. Obama had annealed an alloy of victory. I carried copies of two books with me -- "Freedom From Fear," David Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize-winning history of Franklin Roosevelt's first years in office and "The Purpose Driven Life." Little did I know how urgent the former would become nor how timely the latter.

I asked many of the Democrats I met with, "What's the biggest selling non-fiction (please don't say the Bible) book in America in the last twenty-five years?" Few knew it was Rev. Rick Warren's "The Purpose Driven Life." Second place "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." Third was "In Search of Excellence." These have much in common; they are guides to effective living in our chaotic, anomic society. They also had nothing to do with the flabby, listless, liberalism that passed, pre-Obama, as Democratic gospel. My suggestions were warmly greeted and instantly ignored.

The "Purpose Driven Life" is much more than the Neolithic screed some imagine it to be. Read the book - it's an amalgam of ideas, meditations and plans of action drawn from Scripture and experience as well as from social and behavioral science. In fact, Warren credits his two great mentors as being the Rev. Billy Graham and management consultant Peter Drucker.

As taken from Wikipedia: "Drucker taught that management is "a liberal art," and he infused his management advice with interdisciplinary lessons from history, sociology, psychology, philosophy, culture and religion. He also believed strongly that all institutions, including those in the private sector, have a responsibility to the whole of society. "The fact is," Drucker wrote in his 1973 magnum opus, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, "that in modern society there is no other leadership group but managers. If the managers of our major institutions, and especially of business, do not take responsibility for the common good, no one else can or will."

Taken in a gift-basket along with "Seven Habits," "In Search of Excellence" and the hundreds of other bestsellers that postulate the virtues of efficacy, action and community it becomes clear that Warren is perhaps the country's most successful avatar of fusing values and action. Warren has changed traditional evangelical views on issues such as abortion and gay marriage (though he still personally holds these views). His five-point P.E.A.C.E. Plan calls for church-led initiatives against global poverty and disease, including HIV/AIDS, and toward efforts to support literacy and education around the world. In February 2006, he backed a major initiative to combat global warming, breaking with other leadings evangelicals.

Democrats didn't win in 2006 -- the Republicans lost due to an unpopular war, an asinine President, Hurricane Katrina and corrupt, predatory Congressmen. The Democrats won in 2008 due to a youthful, charismatic candidate facing an inept, superannuated opponent, an unpopular war, and a tanking economy. They did not win due to the force of specific ideas, other than the need for change. Obama, minus an ongoing ideological blueprint for the future, may turn out to be a charismatic anomaly.

Rick Warren and Barack Obama are not the strangest of bedfellows, especially given the socially and environmentally-conscious aspects of Warren's ministry. They have a similar methodology. Having adroitly added Warren to his team of rivals, Obama himself fits easily within the spectrum of intelligent, highly efficient, inclusive, purpose-driven managers, albeit his stated purpose is not exclusively serving God's will.

As stated in Wikipedia: "Simply put, the Purpose Driven paradigm encourages the Christian leader to maintain an intentional, strategic and balanced focus on all (five) purposes, which will in turn produce church health. The concept focuses on health, with the conviction that growth will take care of itself when a congregation is healthy."

Substitute Democratic for Christian, national for church, country for congregation etc. Wouldn't you want a leader who would do that? Wouldn't you want to be part of a party that embodied those ideals in a healthy country?

Now is a time of rare opportunity. Someone in the Democratic party should make it part of their task to read and integrate the credos of "The Purpose Driven Life", "Seven Habits", "In Search of Excellence" etc. and embrace the tenets of business and business people while conjoining them with calls to action and community, with or without Jesus. Write a book and make some money before Rick Warren does.

Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, a co-founder of Nextel, is the only Democrat I've heard with real ideas as to incorporating the imperatives of business and technology. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, a working farmer, is the best exemplar of a new "Blue Plains" earth-rooted populism. As Democrats look to a Green Economy for job growth, now is the time to create the vocabulary that might guide it into becoming a permanently Democratic economy.

Even in a time of foreclosures and circuses, a "Big Tent" isn't enough. The common good springs from common ground and common sense. It's time to create a purpose-driven, highly efficient, excellent Democratic party overflowing with healthy energy, ideas and action. Godspeed.