How the Democrats Flunked Physics 101

Organization behaviorists have reduced the psychology of change to a mathematical equation. According to Michael Beer of the Harvard Business School, change is a function of dissatisfaction (D) multiplied by the vision of a new order (V) times leadership (L) which must be greater than resistance ( R ).  Or  D x V x L >R.   The most obvious analogies, though imperfect, come from the language of physics —— notably Newton's law of motion where Force equals Mass times Acceleration ( F=MxA) and Ohm's law that states Voltage equals Current times Resistance (V=CxR).

An object at rest or moving at a given speed and direction (inertia) needs sufficient mass and acceleration from a different angle to change speed or direction. Likewise resistance in the form of a copper wire having a certain diameter needs enough current and pressure behind it for usable power to be applied.

Election politics work the same way. To turn out an incumbent (think inertia or resistance), all three forces for change need to reach a certain tipping point.  Accordingly, to get rid of George Bush, the Democrats need to harness substantial dissatisfaction among likely voters, articulate a compelling vision of their alternative worldview and convince enough dissatisfied voters that their candidate possesses credible leadership to implement the new order.

Polling data, at least up to the time just prior to the Democratic Party national convention, suggested a sizeable dissatisfaction with the status quo. President Bush's job approval ratings dipped below 50% and 'right track/wrong track' opinions about the nation's direction were decisively leaning towards wrong track. Support for the war in Iraq had dropped to about 45% from above 80% eighteen months earlier.  Predictably, Democrats disagree with nearly everything represented by the Bush White House by margins of 4 to 1. Even some conservative Republicans are unhappy about the tactical conduct of the war and have criticized excessive new government spending for domestic programs.

Occasionally, dissatisfaction alone can be so overpowering to provoke change without feasible alternatives clearly laid out or competent leadership substitutes identified. This would be true for the crew of HMS Bounty in 1789 as they cast off Lt. William Bligh and his loyalists into the longboat, adrift in the South Pacific.  Harry Truman in 1952, and Lyndon Johnson in 1968 wisely declined to stand for re—election with the near—certain knowledge that it would have been impossible to overcome unfavorability ratings of around 80%.  It is likely that Herbert Hoover would have lost his bid for re—election in 1932, no matter who was on the Democratic ticket.  FDR's charismatic leadership and compelling vision of hope, promising to overcome the ravages and despair of the Great Depression were mere icing on the cake.

So, is Bush—hatred sufficient to produce change? During the primaries the Democrats seemed to have had some sense that it wouldn't be enough. After all, Howard Dean, despite galvanizing dissatisfaction through hi—octane anti—Bush rhetoric, was soundly rejected by Democratic primary voters in a brief moment of sobriety.  Dean's scream  showed himself to be an hysterical nut—case, opening the way for John Kerry, who seemed to have just enough restraint and 'electability.'  But the Democrats at their nominating convention, solely relying on voter dissatisfaction —— oxygenated by Michael Moore and the media elites though now represented by a less incendiary candidate —— still didn't deliver a vision statement. While Kerry and Edwards beat the 'Bush is wrong on everything' drum, they've yet to explain what they would do instead, even two weeks after the Republican convention. 

Further, the Democrats presented a candidate virtually without any relevant leadership traits needed to sustain and channel the voter dissatisfaction.  John Kerry flunked his only leadership test in 40 years of his adult life, as graded by an overwhelming majority of his peer group, the Swift boat officers. The lack of a post—convention poll bounce showed that dissatisfaction alone, missing the essential catalyst of a credible, visionary leaderhip, is unlikely to displace the status quo.

In the meantime, George W. Bush and the Republicans aced the mid—semester Physics 101 exam by introducing a compelling vision for a second term.  They presented a leader, far from being charismatic, who nonetheless is overwhelmingly credible, steadfast, trustworthy and fundamentally competent to lead us to a better place in perilous times. Bush's supporting cast, notably Zell Miller, couldn't have been more convincing by contrasting John Kerry as exactly the opposite.  George W. Bush now has a majority of likely voters in his camp —— in fact a double—digit lead according to some polls —— and has an approval rating of better than 50%, while far outpacing John Kerry in the categories of leadership and competencies to be Commander—In—Chief. 

In applying the laws of physics to the psychology of change, academics have expressed what hard—boiled politicians have intuitively known for decades.  Find a reason to 'throw the bum out' and in comparison make your guy look like a saint or a statesman.  In the past two weeks, John Kerry, who is neither saint nor statesman, has discovered that likely voters aren't nearly as polarized in his favor as he needs them to be.

John Kerry, Michael Moore, and the Democrats, sitting in the back of the Physics 101 classroom, should have stopped making spitballs long enough to pay attention to the calculus of change.  And it didn't help their falling grades when they skipped the lab assignment.  On the other hand it's always possible that Barney, George W. Bush's dog, ate their homework.

Geoffrey P. Hunt is an executive in Massachusetts

Organization behaviorists have reduced the psychology of change to a mathematical equation. According to Michael Beer of the Harvard Business School, change is a function of dissatisfaction (D) multiplied by the vision of a new order (V) times leadership (L) which must be greater than resistance ( R ).  Or  D x V x L >R.   The most obvious analogies, though imperfect, come from the language of physics —— notably Newton's law of motion where Force equals Mass times Acceleration ( F=MxA) and Ohm's law that states Voltage equals Current times Resistance (V=CxR).

An object at rest or moving at a given speed and direction (inertia) needs sufficient mass and acceleration from a different angle to change speed or direction. Likewise resistance in the form of a copper wire having a certain diameter needs enough current and pressure behind it for usable power to be applied.

Election politics work the same way. To turn out an incumbent (think inertia or resistance), all three forces for change need to reach a certain tipping point.  Accordingly, to get rid of George Bush, the Democrats need to harness substantial dissatisfaction among likely voters, articulate a compelling vision of their alternative worldview and convince enough dissatisfied voters that their candidate possesses credible leadership to implement the new order.

Polling data, at least up to the time just prior to the Democratic Party national convention, suggested a sizeable dissatisfaction with the status quo. President Bush's job approval ratings dipped below 50% and 'right track/wrong track' opinions about the nation's direction were decisively leaning towards wrong track. Support for the war in Iraq had dropped to about 45% from above 80% eighteen months earlier.  Predictably, Democrats disagree with nearly everything represented by the Bush White House by margins of 4 to 1. Even some conservative Republicans are unhappy about the tactical conduct of the war and have criticized excessive new government spending for domestic programs.

Occasionally, dissatisfaction alone can be so overpowering to provoke change without feasible alternatives clearly laid out or competent leadership substitutes identified. This would be true for the crew of HMS Bounty in 1789 as they cast off Lt. William Bligh and his loyalists into the longboat, adrift in the South Pacific.  Harry Truman in 1952, and Lyndon Johnson in 1968 wisely declined to stand for re—election with the near—certain knowledge that it would have been impossible to overcome unfavorability ratings of around 80%.  It is likely that Herbert Hoover would have lost his bid for re—election in 1932, no matter who was on the Democratic ticket.  FDR's charismatic leadership and compelling vision of hope, promising to overcome the ravages and despair of the Great Depression were mere icing on the cake.

So, is Bush—hatred sufficient to produce change? During the primaries the Democrats seemed to have had some sense that it wouldn't be enough. After all, Howard Dean, despite galvanizing dissatisfaction through hi—octane anti—Bush rhetoric, was soundly rejected by Democratic primary voters in a brief moment of sobriety.  Dean's scream  showed himself to be an hysterical nut—case, opening the way for John Kerry, who seemed to have just enough restraint and 'electability.'  But the Democrats at their nominating convention, solely relying on voter dissatisfaction —— oxygenated by Michael Moore and the media elites though now represented by a less incendiary candidate —— still didn't deliver a vision statement. While Kerry and Edwards beat the 'Bush is wrong on everything' drum, they've yet to explain what they would do instead, even two weeks after the Republican convention. 

Further, the Democrats presented a candidate virtually without any relevant leadership traits needed to sustain and channel the voter dissatisfaction.  John Kerry flunked his only leadership test in 40 years of his adult life, as graded by an overwhelming majority of his peer group, the Swift boat officers. The lack of a post—convention poll bounce showed that dissatisfaction alone, missing the essential catalyst of a credible, visionary leaderhip, is unlikely to displace the status quo.

In the meantime, George W. Bush and the Republicans aced the mid—semester Physics 101 exam by introducing a compelling vision for a second term.  They presented a leader, far from being charismatic, who nonetheless is overwhelmingly credible, steadfast, trustworthy and fundamentally competent to lead us to a better place in perilous times. Bush's supporting cast, notably Zell Miller, couldn't have been more convincing by contrasting John Kerry as exactly the opposite.  George W. Bush now has a majority of likely voters in his camp —— in fact a double—digit lead according to some polls —— and has an approval rating of better than 50%, while far outpacing John Kerry in the categories of leadership and competencies to be Commander—In—Chief. 

In applying the laws of physics to the psychology of change, academics have expressed what hard—boiled politicians have intuitively known for decades.  Find a reason to 'throw the bum out' and in comparison make your guy look like a saint or a statesman.  In the past two weeks, John Kerry, who is neither saint nor statesman, has discovered that likely voters aren't nearly as polarized in his favor as he needs them to be.

John Kerry, Michael Moore, and the Democrats, sitting in the back of the Physics 101 classroom, should have stopped making spitballs long enough to pay attention to the calculus of change.  And it didn't help their falling grades when they skipped the lab assignment.  On the other hand it's always possible that Barney, George W. Bush's dog, ate their homework.

Geoffrey P. Hunt is an executive in Massachusetts