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When the Two Parties of a Two Party System Don't Know Why They Exist

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Republicans are completely
befuddled by Obama’s “star power” and don’t seem to have a clear or effective
strategy to compete. Though they are able to coordinate their messages better than
Democrats, absent a leader who can clearly articulate a Republican vision for
America, the only thing they can do is attack, attack, attack.

Democrats have a leader who defies all the political odds. Obama became
president with little experience, he’s making headway reforming healthcare, and
won a Noble Peace Prize which, even he admits, he probably didn’t deserve. But
as a party, they bicker, they can’t coordinate messages and they seem more
obsessed with “setting the record straight” than advancing their vision for
America. Absent the ability to focus, the best they can muster is defend,
defend, defend (and sometimes, maybe, if it’s not too harsh – attack).

Leadership is not derived from having the loudest voice or the biggest base.
 Leadership isn’t about having all the answers or having all your i’s
dotted and t’s crossed. Leadership doesn’t necessarily even come from simply
having your name on the door. True leadership comes from inspiring people to
focus on where they are going, not fighting against whatever is happening now.
 This is what it means to offer a “vision for America.” This is what it
means to inspire.

Democrats are flummoxed by
Republicans ability to stall or redirect progress. No matter the message
Democrats develop, Republicans almost always come up with a better sound bite
for the headlines. The Democrats response throughout the healthcare debate?
Give the people more statistics.

Republicans are perplexed how Obama’s star shines so brightly. No matter how
much they attack, Obama seems to keep moving forwards. Just this week, we
learned the Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) supported the health care bill in
the finance committee. The Republican response? Attack Olympia Snowe.

But neither party does a good job of contextualizing why they have the opinions
they do in the first place. Both care about America, both believe in upholding
the values laid down by our forefathers. Both are deeply patriotic.  And
both know why America exists – it’s all about life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness. The difference lies in how they think we should deliver on that
American Dream. Though both parties know why America exists, neither party can
tell you why they exist.

Republicans are the party of “I”. They believe the responsibility of government
is to support those who pursue the American Dream – which is why their policies
have historically favored the rich and businesses. Buried in the pages of their
newly designed website, the RNC hints at why the Republican Party exists, “The
Republican Party is inspired by the power of ingenuity of the individual to
succeed through hard work, family support and self-discipline.” Instead of
opening their website with their cause, with their Why, there is a video about
how bad America is doing and how bad Obama is. It’ll make you angry, it may
rally a crowd…but it’s not inspiring. It’s not leadership

Democrats are the party of “we.”  They believe the responsibility of
government is to try to help everyone pursue the American Dream – which is why
their policies have historically favored labor and the poor.  Buried in
the pages of the DNC website they also hint at why the Democratic Party exists,
“The Democratic Party is committed to keeping our nation safe and expanding
opportunity for every American.” Instead of leading with their cause, with
their Why, one of the first things is a section called “Call ‘em out” devoted
to correcting the lies being spread by Republicans.

Instead of trying to plan the next attack strategy, it may benefit the
Republican Party to try to understand why Obama's star shines so brightly.
After all, it is this “star quality” that Republicans attribute to Obama’s
winning the Nobel Peace prize last week – an observation that would be entirely
correct. I understand why Republican leadership invests so much money and
energy trying to dim his star, but the benefit to trying to understand it and
even learn how to turn up the wattage of one of your own is not only better for
the Republican Party, it’s better for the country. A strategy of attack, attack,
attack – from either party – inhibits progress and divides us as a nation.

Though he's not always perfect at expressing it, Obama has a vision for
America, one born out of optimism, that comes out whenever he gives big
speeches. Sadly, that’s the only time
it does. He believes that any people,
no matter how divergent their differences, can always find common ground to
advance a common cause. He believes America can work together to mend its
economy. “Yes we can.” He believes that America can come together to reform
healthcare. “Yes we can.” He believes the nations of the world can come
together to find common understanding. “Yes we can.” And it is his optimism in
this belief that inspires and gives him his star quality. Democrats need to
focus around Obama’s vision and focus their message and energy into drafting legislation that will breath life into the vision.

Republicans don’t need to look to Obama to learn how to make a star. Go back and
study Ronald Reagan – a visionary leader who confounded Democrats at the time
with his own star quality. Reagan spoke about “morning in America” – he oozed
an optimism for what America could
be. Reagan had an undying belief that each American has the ability to make
their own lives better if they put our minds to it. In stark contrast, the
modern Republican Party defines itself by what it’s not rather than what it is.
 Republicans need an optimistic leader who can present an alternative
vision for America’s future instead of just rallying against Obama’s vision of

The way the two party system
is supposed to work is that both parties present their vision for America and
then the people will choose which they believe best suits them based on the
challenges they face at the times.  Sometimes we want to celebrate the
ingenuity of the individual – like in the booming ‘80s and sometimes we feel
the need to band together and work to support those who can’t support
themselves – like in times of war, economic crisis and when the social security
and health care systems are ailing.

I’ve studied great leaders and great organizations, those with the ability to
inspire. And they all have something in common. Regardless of their party or
their politics, unrelated to their business or their industry – they all think,
act and communicate the exact same way, and it’s the complete opposite to
everyone else.  In all cases, the “stars” clearly communicate an
optimistic vision of the future, they tell us why they do what they do. It is so clear that the rest of us know
why they do what they do also, even if we disagree with the specifics of how
they aim to do it. When there is clarity of Why, those who believe the same
will take it upon themselves to join the cause. A following, by its definition,
are those who share a common set of values and beliefs.
This is the reason great leaders command a loyal following.

Democrats have a leader with
a vision, but lack focus. Republicans are focused but lack a leader with a
vision. Perhaps, in a day-and-age when both parties can only point at
each other and define themselves as “not that,” we need a president who can
find their common ground. Yes he can.

Simon Sinek’s new book, Start With Why: How great
leaders inspire everyone to take action
, is available for pre-order now
and arrives on shelves Oct 29th.

For more from Simon, visit