Political parties and the "So What?" test

For more of my commentary on life in Richmond, Indiana check out RichmondMatters.com.
(Please note, because of the time that has passed since I wrote this article, it may no longer reflect my current views or the most accurate and complete information available on this subject.)

Partisan FailAs complex human beings, it can be hard to communicate all that we stand for and all that we've experienced in casual social interactions.  "Hi, I'm Chris, let me tell you about the past 34 years of my life in the next 2 minutes...."  When it goes beyond communicating to trying to persuade someone of something - that they should vote for you, for example - it can be even harder to efficiently sum up what you're about in meaningful, authentic ways.

This is surely part of the utility, then, of having political parties: "Democrat," "Republican" and "Libertarian" (to name a few) are labels that help us identify a set of beliefs and values that a particular candidate might stand for and bring to their approach to governance.

But in recent years, the wordsmiths of the political machine have diluted many of these labels, and candidates and politicians who say they stand for one thing and then do other things have further made those labels less meaningful to voters. And just because we have labels to help us, we can't forfeit our responsibility to truly understand what a candidate stands for and how they would represent us.

This is where the "So What?" test comes in.

In the world of business marketing, the "So What?" test is a way to make sure the way you talk about your product or service is actually meaningful to your target customer.  If they can't figure out what's in it for them, they won't respond.

"Buy our widget - it's the best one around!"

So what?

"Our widget comes from a fine tradition of similar widgets that are all just what you've been looking for!"

So what?

"Our widget will help you save time and get your work done faster so that you can spend more time with your family."

AHHHHHH.  Now I see.

When it comes to political party affiliations and other political labels, I think we have to apply the "So What?" test too.

If a candidate says they stand for "conservative values," say "so what?" and make them explain what that actually means to them and how they put it into practice in ways that will affect you.

If a candidate says they're progressive or that you should vote for them because they're a Democrat, say "so what?" and ask for examples of how progressive and Democratic values will translate to a better life for your community.

As I've talked to community members during this campaign, it's become clear that many Richmond voters like the "horse race" part of local elections. We can talk about the future of the community, responsible governance and the character of the candidates all day long, but for a lot of people, the interesting parts of an election boils down to whether their favored political party or candidate is winning or not.  This may be fun - but it's not constructive, and it leads to dangerous practices like straight-party-line voting and adherence to partisan agendas that put aside doing what's actually right for citizens.

Yes, it can be helpful and even enjoyable to identify with a group that expresses our hopes and values in a way that's greater than we can do as individuals.  It's exciting to root for the team you want to win, and to ride along for the ups and downs of that team's journey to a hopeful victory.

But if the individual team members - the candidates - can't pass the "So What?" test, in the end it doesn't matter what team they're on, and voters lose out.

If you see me out and about campaigning, and I say something that doesn't pass the "So What?" test, I hope you'll hold me accountable.

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