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David D. Burstein

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Shut Down This Leadership

Posted: 10/08/2013 12:17 pm

The government shutdown which began last week is the latest in a long line of failures of leadership in Washington. These failures are in large part the result of a severe talent deficit plaguing our political system. While there are very serious structural challenges in the system -- campaign finance, gerrymandering, and procedural rules to name a few -- these challenges are addressable if -- and only if -- we have the right people in office. Until we do, political brinksmanship, inaction, and failure will reign supreme, while our biggest long-term sustainability challenges compound. Our unprecedented 21st century challenges from the environment to entitlement reform require us to have the best and brightest minds in the political arena: innovators, disruptors, and entrepreneurs into politics.

When events like this shutdown occur, they should be a rallying cry for people to get up and run for office. Instead, the shutdown has sent message to any good person who has a slight inkling that they might want to get into government, telling them that the system is so broken and so hopeless, they should run away from politics. And they have. Once upon a time, young people aspired to be senators and congressmen, but today just 35 percent of Millennials even feel that running for office is an honorable thing to do. Similarly, this May, the New York Times reported that in races all over the country party officials were having trouble finding people to run for the United States Senate.

In every other aspect of our world from business to education, we try to identify and recruit the most talented people for the job. Why? Because investing in talent produces results. Schools can have great curriculums and programs, but they don't succeed without great teachers. Businesses can have great products but without great executives and employees, they aren't worth much. In our increasingly technology driven world, there is no substitute for talented people.

But we don't just need new leaders; we need a new generation of leadership, with different motivations. An analysis by the Cook Political Report found that in the last government shutdown 17 years ago, "79 of the 236 House Republicans serving during the last shutdown resided in districts that Clinton won in 1992. Today, just 17 of the 232 House Republicans are in districts that Obama won in 2012." With so many Members of Congress in such safe district, the incentive for them -- and many of their Democratic counterparts -- to tackle big issues is lower than ever and the upside of taking extreme positions, that can generate big online fundraising hauls and media coverage, is better than ever. To put it another way, at a time when our problems are bigger than ever, it's never made less political sense to solve those problems. We need to shut down not the government, but this kind of leadership.

Luckily, there is a group of people who are ready and able to step up to this challenge -- members of the Millennial Generation, of which I am a part. Earlier this year Republican Congressman Aaron Schock said, "I think if you gathered the 40 members under 40 and locked us in a room, we could solve this Nation's problems in 24 hours." While he may have exaggerated slightly, his impulse is right, this generation has an entirely different approach to leadership, marked by openness, collaboration, pragmatism, a health distrust of ideology, and idealism. On issues like gay marriage and immigration Millennials on both sides of the aisle are in general agreement and if elected would put these issues to an end once and for all.

But people in my generation need to step up to the plate to run for office. While many of us have become social innovators and entrepreneurs, hardly any of us are running for public office. To my own generation I say that there has never been a worse time to abdicate our political responsibility, while we may not like our current political system, the only way we can make it better is to go into it and change it. To members of other generations, you have a choice to make, continue looking to the people who have gotten us into the mess we're in today, hoping that they will change their tune, or get serious -- right now -- about urging a new generation with a new way of thinking to run and do everything you can to help get them into office.

 
 
 

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