GOP Running Mate Pick to Spur Debate?

4 Sep

Being on campus at Harvard Kennedy School during the fall run up to the national election should be an absolute treat – I am fortunate to be here during a presidential election year.   When they designed the Harvard KSG in the 1970’s, they built a forum, the JFK Jr. Forum in the Littauer Center to be one of the nation’s leading centers for political discourse of all kinds.  The Forum attracts world leaders, political activists and media members from around the world.    The word is already out that the forum will be buzzing with activity several nights a week during this fall’s run up to the election.   From what I have heard, there is a HKS tradition of the forum hosting live televised political events, such as the presidential debates, with students lustily cheering or hooting as so inspired, it will be the place to be for those with a passion for politics.

This brings me to the topic of this blog.   I am excited that Mitt Romney has selected Congressman Paul Ryan as the GOP running mate, though my reasons are not at all political.   What I love is that the selection is a true conversation shifter.  It is my hope that with the federal budget now promising to be a centerpiece of the national debate, there will be a natural segue to, (and go ahead and kill me for being an optimist here) a genuinely meaningful discussion and debate about the role of government in America in the year 2012 and beyond.    As much as republicans and democrats argue over budgets, I believe the fundamental difference is their respective philosophies on how big of a role government should have in helping to solve problems impacting society, poverty, pollution, crime, education,  and the biggies, healthcare, caring for our senior citizens to name just a few.

As much as this topic sounds like perfect fodder for left/right point/counter-point political chatter, this is not my intention.   Based on all that I observe and all that I read, it would seem perfectly natural to believe that the country is as divided as ever before.   Neatly divided between blue and red, conservative and  liberal; and furthermore, you better pick a side and above all you better not provide aid or comfort to the enemy camp.    I wonder though how many people are really in unshakeable ideological camps.   It is my belief, (and fervent hope) that the majority are not immersed in deep ideology but have different responses to this one question, (at least for domestic issues) Is it more critical that government be extremely effective, or extremely efficient?   These are terms that sometimes get tossed around interchangeably, but there is a real difference.

Some take the practical view that government is inherently simply too inefficient (when contrasted with the private sector) to contend with big gnarly issues (like healthcare).  Others take a more Idealistic view, and though may concede the point that government is not naturally an efficiency machine, but on certain issues we must be extremely effective, even if it costs a little more (issues like healthcare, child welfare, global warming, education, etc.).   I don’t believe the vast majority truly view government’s role as a constitutional issue but simply more as a practical one.

So what if we were to change the equation?  What if government could prove to be a more ‘efficient’ engine while still maintaining a commitment to being effective?   You may say yes, well what if cows could fly, that would be nice but is it realistic?   This is the proposition that I intend to make the centerpiece of my work here at the HKS this year.   I say yes, it is Indeed possible.   That through creative policy making, regulatory reform, new and innovative private-public partnerships, and by leveraging rapidly evolving technology and methods for citizen engagement, that yes government can become much more efficient.   Every one of these improvements are not only possible but there are numerous examples (not as rare as you might think) of innovative successes in all these arenas.  It will require strong and sustained leadership in the public sector to make these examples the rule and not the exception.  I will delve deeper into these meaty issues and how my course work is developing relative to these issues in later posts but I will say this, one reason to be hopeful is that government if nothing else has a strong survival instinct.  And given the new normal of austere budgets, I believe government is ready to adapt in creative ways to new realities.

So, back to the beginning.  I am looking forward to seeing how this debate takes shape and in trying to decipher America’s reaction and the impact on election-day.   In the meanwhile, my focus here at HKS is not really the political, at least not in the short term.  It is this, what government is entrusted to do; it has an obligation to not only do well, but as efficiently as possible, and with as much citizen engagement as possible. It is a critical part of the equation that the public perceives that its government is not callous regarding the sacrifice the public makes to fund each and every public initiative.  It is my hope that this is a position most Americans could get behind.

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