The Future of Politics and Government
By Philip K. Howard
Most Americans think government is broken, and despair of either party fixing it — indeed, 58 percent say we need a new political party. But what should a third party — or an independent grassroots movement — stand for?
Let’s start with the simple, essential goal of fixing and modernizing our broken government. A crescendo from all sides is calling for a complete overhaul — including books by the editors of The Economist (The Fourth Revolution), Peter Schuck (Why Government Fails So Often), Francis Fukuyama (Political Order and Political Decay), Eugene Steuerle (Dead Men Ruling) and my book (The Rule of Nobody). But Washington will keep doing what it did yesterday until forced to change. That will require a movement that millions of Americans stand behind.
The platform, in my view, should focus on neglected goals, not merely dealing with sleazy aspects of democracy. Goals are tangible touchstones, providing clear targets as well as a basis for accountability. The continued failure of the political establishment to make progress on core goals is also irrefutable.
In trying to appeal to the vast unrepresented middle, the platform probably also needs to accept goals that each ideological wing instinctively resists. Liberals care about the environment. Conservatives care about fiscal responsibility. Moderates care about both. As an alternative to political stalemate, this draft platform calls for balanced initiatives to achieve both fiscal responsibility and a sustainable environmental footprint. The way to pay for this is to radically simplify government, updating priorities and eliminating notorious waste, inefficiency and special interest subsidies that extend back to the New Deal. As a bonus, a modern, simplified government can liberate everyone from bureaucratic paralysis — getting millions to work on rebuilding infrastructure, and relieving doctors, teachers, small businesses and everyone else from the migraine headache of mindless bureaucracy.
Here it is.
Platform for the Future.
America is drifting toward the rocks. Political parties are unlikely to risk making tough choices. A new group needs to build support for a functioning future framework. The movement should be built upon three core principles, which the political system continually fails to act on. We must demand these principles not as partisan goals, but as moral mandates:
- We must modernize government. Government is paralyzed by an accumulation of obsolete programs and mindless bureaucracy. This bureaucratic blob is smothering the American spirit. Initiative and spontaneity are increasingly illegal — bogging down teachers, entrepreneurs, citizens, even the President. The solution is not to get rid of government but to reset priorities and simplify decision-making. Human responsibility, not endless bureaucracy, should be the organizing structure of government.
- American government must not mortgage the future. The undisciplined accretion of subsidies and entitlements is immoral, making our children pay tomorrow for today’s benefits. The solution is not to terminate programs but to overhaul them to eliminate their many inefficiencies and inequities, and to make sure they are responsibly funded.
- America must be a responsible steward of the earth’s resources. America will have no moral authority to lead worldwide initiatives for clean air and water, and to preserve the vitality of oceans, unless it is disciplined in its use and oversight of finite natural resources. This requires new incentives that protect base levels of sustainability.
To accomplish these goals, American government needs to be rebuilt. There’s no avoiding it. The status quo is set in legal concrete. Fulfilling moral mandates of responsible government requires new codes — replacing the massive junk pile of well-meaning laws and programs with modern, practical structures that meet the needs of today’s society, not yesterday’s.
America’s political culture will not be helpful. It has become an engine of the status quo, going nowhere at great expense, as special interests succeed in preventing change. Breaking free of this broken political culture requires a new vision, fueled by moral imperative, of where America needs to go. What’s the right thing to do? That’s the question that should guide our choices, and define America’s future.
A version of this article originally appeared in The Huffington Post on September 30, 2014.