The Party of 'And' vs. the Party of 'Or'

President Obama's resolution of the contraception issue provided women access to free contraception AND churches the exemption for conscience that they wanted.


America has always been at its best, and achieved exceptionalism, when it has been a country of "And" -- , as the preamble to the Constitution says, liberty AND justice AND the general welfare. Republicans are the party of "OR" -- medicare OR a balanced budget; heterosexual marriage OR gay marriage; natural born citizens OR immigrants; constitutional principles OR evolution to reflect new circumstances; protecting the environment OR economic growth... or, as Newt Gingrich puts it, paychecks OR food stamps.

Probably the most ridiculous argument Republicans make is that our economic choices are either free enterprise OR government spending. We have always done both. Indeed, the genius of America has been to have private enterprise, public-private partnerships, and purely public endeavors to grow our economy. The Bayh-Dole Act, for example, facilitates the transfer of government-sponsored basic research into private enterprises. On the other side, the government has done some very big things that private enterprise would never find profitable -- roads, bridges, basic R&D, education, and so forth.

Built to Last is the seminal book on strategic management by Porras and Collins. They investigated the 50+ year histories of companies in multiple industries, and determined those characteristics that distinguished the "great" from the "near great" companies. The same principles would apply to other organizations or even nations.

Although one does not know whether the president's use of the mantra,"built to last," was a deliberate reference to the Porras and Collins book, he seems to take its elements to heart.

The "great organizations" do not bend to what Porras and Collins call "the tyranny of the 'Or.'" That is, on the company level, they do not choose an important goal to the exclusion of others. Ask the CEO of a "Built-to-Last" company whether she wants to increase profits or increase market share; or maximize short-term revenues or long-term revenues; or design the best diabetes drug or get it to market quickly.... and the answer to all these question is... "yes." Decades of experience have shown that telling the company it needs to increase market share AND increase profits; design the best drug AND get it to market quickly... and so forth, creates the best and most sustainable companies.

It also creates the best and most sustainable countries. Should we maximize job creation or protect the environment? Yes. Should we provide elderly guaranteed quality medical care or reduce our deficit? Yes. Should we provide our children with world-class education or our teachers with adequate salaries and pensions? Yes. Should we rely on the private sector or government stimulus to get us out of the recession? Yes.

Should we have the best intelligence or protect civil rights? Yes. Should we rebuild our infrastructure or reduce our deficit? Yes. Should we remain committed to the core principles of our constitution or evolve with changing conditions? Yes.

Good policymakers who are charged with accomplishing both goals in each set (the "And") will fashion the most productive policies. We will maximize job creation AND protect the environment. We will provide excellent quality guaranteed medical care to our senior citizens AND reduce the per patient costs of doing so... and so forth.

Do you want paychecks or food-stamps? Yes, I want us to have an economy that hums so it produces jobs for everyone, but I would also like to know that the most prosperous nation in history will not let anyone become hungry or malnourished.

The president would be wise to articulate that distinction very clearly, along with the consequences of being an "Or" nation. The book's authors would not be surprised that when the "Or" party ruled, America declined, and that when the "Or" party blocked the "And" party from instituting their policies, it did not recover as quickly or as completely as it could have from that decline.

Building a "built-to-last" nation requires adopting the applicable principles of Built to Last organizations.

The president and the Democrats would be wise not to counter the Republican positions by defending the opposite, but rather embrace both. Do we rely upon free enterprise or government spending to get us out of this slow-growth economy? We rely on both.

The President and the Democrats should contrast themselves as the party of "And," and label very specifically the Republicans as the party of "Or."

Call them out on it. Make the distinction explicit.

Porras and Collins called it the "genius of the 'And'" (as compared to the "tyranny of the 'Or'").

They are right. It is genius.