Old Government in a New World and Why its Failing

To the Harvard Class of 2013,

A few years ago, I had the honor of serving as a Fellow at Harvard’s famed Institute of Politics. I will never forget the experience Harvard offered me, and neither should you. The resources available here are unmatched throughout the country, giving you all the ability to fix our government and chart a new path for America.

How does a country remain forever young?  Can a nation remain vibrant if its government grows old, precluding the country’s ability to move ahead?

If we have learned anything the past few decades it is this: The way Washington is trying to fix things isn’t working—and it’s not because our politicians aren’t trying. They have tried to “plan” our way out of every problem imaginable.

They’ve tried to “plan” our way out of an education quagmire.  Instead, they have wasted a generation of American children, condemning them to face a changing world without hope or preparation. They’ve tried to “plan” more affordable health care but have only made it more expensive, less innovative and more uncertain. They’ve tried to “plan” for our retirement security but have left a growing group of seniors depending on the shrinking generations that will follow them. They’ve tried to “plan” for the future but Americans yet unborn are already wallowing in debt.

Most politicians I’ve been privileged to meet over the years in Washington, Democrats and Republicans, are good people. They are smart, courageous and work selflessly for the friends and neighbors who elected them.

The problem is not the sincerity of their intentions but the age of their ideas. This is not the worst they can do. This is the best they can do.  Despite their best efforts, they approach every problem with a big, top-down industrial-age plan, a tool that is out of date.

There once was a time when the uniformity dispensed by the American factory was the world’s most efficient means of production. It satisfied the needs of a growing and vital country. The assembly line, the cog and the gear, emblematic of standardized production, gave us not only the wonder of the automobile, but also the American middle class—the crowing achievement of the industrial age.

The factory was a miracle of progress.  And so we transferred that successful experiment to other social challenges.  We built a big, top-down factory in Washington with an assembly line to crank out policies and a conveyor belt to produce programs and a loading dock to deliver regulations.  And for a while, when the factory was young, everything seemed to work.

The G.I. bill.  Social Security.  Hoover Dam.  Big simple national projects harnessed the will of a nation and delivered on its promises and good intentions.

Over time, however, society grew more agile and moved more quickly. Its challenges grew increasingly interconnected and complex. Its demands bloomed exponentially. The pressure on government intensified, but factory could only do what factories do: It grew larger and cranked out more of the same.

It piled more regulation, policies and programs on top of old ones. It patched the problems and then, patched the patches. It grew muscular and then muscle-bound.

And so, today, we find ourselves in a world where everything has changed except our government. The factory is still doing its best, but in a hyper-connected, dynamic, communications age country, industrial-age government conformity can’t keep pace.  It is past its time.  In today’s America, old doesn’t work.

We have gone from the day of the top-down, unchanging encyclopedia to the age of bottom-up Wikipedia. We have moved from the conformity of Pabst Blue Ribbon to the choice and diversity of microbrews. We have gone from an age of gatekeeper newspapers to the open doors of the blogosphere. Our one-size-fits-all government, however, has been left behind, stuck in the age of standardization.

In an age of independence and personal empowerment, New Republicans are advancing something fresh:  bottom-up solutions instead of top-down uniformity. We believe our challenges will be addressed more effectively and compassionately in a more modern and natural way.

Item one on a New Republican Agenda is an open educational system, not a closed or zoned one, manipulated top-down by Washington.  Factory style schools have had their day. Republicans, unobligated to the top-down educational bureaucracy and teacher’s unions, can push for a bottom-up educational system that gives parents an equal opportunity to choose the best schools for their children. It puts the old, uniform approach of the educational establishment to shame.

Item two on a New Republican Agenda: Growing our economy naturally and organically, bottom-up.  We are past the old, political and artificial stimulus. Organic, not artificial growth, is the key to renewed and lasting prosperity. That means moving money and power out of Washington and out of the hands of the Washington elite—the well-intentioned managers on our capital’s factory floor. We must plant the seeds of growth, not in the sterile concrete of Washington, but in the fertile soil of the dynamic economy where real Americans live.

Item three on a New Republcian Agenda:  It’s time to re-boot Washington.  If we invented America’s government today, would we replicate what we have now?  Even David Axelrod admits our government is ungovernable.  He says, "There's so much beneath you that you can't know because the government is so vast."  The answer:  Let’s sell every other government building and send the vast and unknowable factory managers to the unemployment line.  Let’s start growing America’s economy instead of Washington’s economy.  New Republicans believe we should put America first.

Times have changed.  Our government hasn’t.  New Republicans believe we can fix that and, in so doing, make America young again. The government won’t be fixed by itself. It needs smart, young leaders to tackle the problems this nation currently faces. Together, we can do this. It is time to take responsibility for our country and come up with the innovative, bottom-up solutions this nation desperately needs.

Alex Castellanos is a founding partner at Purple Strategies, a bipartisan public affairs firm in Washington, D.C. In 2008, he served as a Fellow in the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is currently a member of CNN's "Best Political Team on Television" and is a leader in the New Republican movement at newrepublican.org.

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