I am frustrated with the way the fall election is shaping up. I am scared of the Republican agenda and uninspired by the Democrats. I can't see an end to gridlock in Washington regardless how the election turns out. Yet America is facing many daunting problems. We need to add at least an average of 450,000 jobs per month -- if we want to have full employment in four years. We have to balance the Federal budget by 2020 and bring down debt to manageable levels -- say 60 percent by 2020 and 35 percent by 2035. Just as bad as saddling our children and grandchildren with enormous debt is bequeathing them climate change. To have a healthy economy and high quality of life we need to improve education, rebuild our infrastructure and expand basic research. The public has lost faith with all levels of government. But we need responsive, efficient and effective government at all levels. I can go on with challenges but for now let's just stop at this daunting list.
Is it possible to address all of these issues concurrently? If such a comprehensive agenda can be assembled is there any chance of getting it implemented? I took a stab at trying to answer the first question and came up with seven ideas which if implemented concurrently could address all of these issues. But that is for later posts. In this post I want to address process.
The outcomes I described above are ones that will generate support from a majority of the population. (Because climate change deniers have been particularly effective in communicating their message I am not sure if this will still be a majority however if reducing greenhouse gas emissions is being done concurrent with job creation and deficit reduction most fence sitters will at least not object.)
I am a firm believer that when it comes to outcomes (or goals) and values most Americans are in agreement. Prioritizing these outcomes and the means of achieving them is where the big disagreements are. However if an agenda can be devised that attacks several outcomes concurrently the priority element is addressed.
The means of achieving desired outcomes requires ideas that will actually achieve them in the real world. This will probably mean a cocktail of conservative and liberal ideas and ideas that defy traditional labeling. It will not be easy convincing a diverse population on a single set of ideas -- after all how do we know they will indeed work and not have unintended consequences. A group of individuals and/or organizations that have a sterling record of accuracy in forecasting or assessing ideas over the past five years will need to be assembled to vet various proposals and assemble a comprehensive agenda. This group would not be selected based on ideology, partisanship or academic degrees. They would be selected solely on a very objective assessment of the accuracy of their writings.
Selling new ideas is not easy and fraught with risk. This approach should give confidence that the ideas that survived the scrutiny of this group will have a good chance of accomplishing the desired outcomes. An interactive website could allow individuals determine the exact impacts on their lives the chosen proposals will have, provide a more thorough explanation of the proposals and why they think they will work and have links to objective fact check websites for the most skeptical. A concurrent method to achieve consensus is to enlist prominent individuals trusted by distinct segments of the population. I am not referring to the "base" of a political party but all groups because this agenda needs to be supported by a large cross section of the population.
By now I expect you are wondering how this process happens. I can envision several scenarios.
Ideally President Obama would asks "What it will take to actually accomplish all of these things concurrently?" Pulling from several sources both inside and outside of his administration he would assemble the team to vet the ideas and develop the agenda. His campaign would develop the website and find the supportive speakers. The president himself would talk to Americans first focusing on the outcomes, then the process he used to come up with the agenda and then describe the actions needed. This is the best way he can show he is a leader but probably the most unlikely scenario I can envision.
Another scenario is for the big contributors to Democratic campaigns to demand this approach and offer to double their contributions if it is carried out. I feel dirty suggesting this since I would like to get money out of politics but since money will be a major part of this year's election if enlightened donors could use money in a positive way the ends may justify the means.
A third scenario is for organizations in which at least one of the above outcomes is part of their core mission, and in which none of the above outcomes is contrary to that mission, band together. This effort could be called Common Ground or United Front. Imagine if groups as disparate as AARP, The Sierra Club, Concord Coalition, Move-on.org and No Labels would get behind a single agenda and educated and mobilize their members to support any candidate for Congress as well as for president, regardless of party, who endorses and promises to do all they can to enact this agenda if elected. These groups would also pool resources to establish a unified strategy that educates and builds support among individuals not affiliated with any of these groups.
The likelihood that hundred of organizations could band together to advance a common agenda may seem as likely as the presidential candidates advancing bold and effective solutions. However if billionaires interested in good public policy, for example Michael Bloomberg and George Soros offered to match dollar for dollar the combined investment of these groups and use their influence to convince the leaders of these groups to join forces -- just maybe it will happen.