“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness…” -Allen Ginsberg
We face an era in our history where political courage is more important than ever. Our infrastructure is in need of a massive overhaul. The future of energy is diverting from our current reliance on dirty fuel sources like coal and oil to cleaner, more renewable options like solar and wind. Disinvestment in education is posing a serious threat to our ability to adapt to the challenges of a changing world. The good news is the technology and expertise exists to move ourselves in the need direction. The bad news is our greatest leaders and minds find themselves so disenfranchised with the political gamesmanship they shy away from the positions that would allow them to affect real change for the world of policy analysis. In order to reverse this disturbing trend we need to change the discourse and encourage the policy experts to enter into the discussion. To do this we must first address the issues keeping them out of the discussion.
Inflammatory rhetoric needs to be replaced with civil discussion. Too often is the public discourse filled with venomous attacks. It seems the differences devolve into who can shout their point louder, rather than getting to the validity of the arguments themselves. Then, when someone comes along with pretty clear evidence in opposition to the beliefs of the crowd they are called partisan hacks and looked down upon. We must move beyond our differences to move forward. This requires assessing viewpoints that challenge our own and respectfully disagreeing with those found to be invalid.
Emotional assumptions must be measured against facts. A great deal of the debate around the law consists of assumptions that have little to no basis in fact. Take the healthcare debate for example, so much was made of “death panels” and the dangers of government controlled care. However, under closer review there were no death panels and Medicare is an immensely popular program that is basically a smaller scale version of “scary government run healthcare.” Similarly, the concept of “trickle down economics” has dominated the political discussion for decades despite there being no credible data to support its claims. What is true, is that people’s beliefs in something outweighs the actual truth behind the policy, which of course, further discourages those best equipped to make the decisions needed from entering the fray.
We must reward honesty and courage in our political leaders. Many of us complain that our elected officials are corrupt and lack the integrity needed to lead. However, it is important to remember we are the ones responsible for putting elected officials in office. We have a tendency to punish those who speak honestly about the sacrifices needed. Furthermore, our impatience does not allow for the forward thinking our leaders need to prepare for the future. This inability to do what needs to be done drives the best and the brightest to fields outside the public realm where they won’t have to deal with the restlessness of the masses. In order to prevent this exodus, the citizenry needs to become better informed and have the patience needed to allow the hard decisions to be made.
One might argue those who study policy are ill-suited for the rigors of public office. However, considering our lawmakers are by definition policymakers, I can not agree with this assessment. Every individual who retreats from civil service when they could drive the country forward with their expertise as a representative of the people, is a loss for us all. As a collective, it is important we start moving toward the fact-based, civil dialogue needed to draw the greatest minds of our generation to public service. Anything less may lead us down road littered with madness.