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Forward, America!

Emmanuel Macron’s La Republique en Marche party is racking up huge gains in the parliamentary elections, verifying the clear message previously sent by French voters – we want something different. Because of their clear choice we also may have an answer to the question posed by restless voters throughout the developed world for the last two years. What is it that they want? Something different, more than anything.

American politics, between elections, is frozen in the choices made last November. All we have to debate is an endless array of minutia, all of which are subject to interpretation for one simple reason – no one can possibly make sense of a lot of details.

We need a distraction, something which takes our focus away from the dazzling details. We need a shinier object that breaks us out of the endless recounting of trees, not forest. And there is nothing Shinier than high technology.

If a political philosophy based on technology seems cynical, consider Macron’s statement, “We need new methods, not ideas.” Let’s take that one step further and make it a platform. Introducing the real Progressives, perhaps called Forward America, likely nicknamed the Technocrats.

Data driven government is a wonk’s dream. But it’s hard to talk about.

The premise is a simple one: anyone who favors government’s role should focus on making government work. American voters lost faith in the power of government long ago, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes not. It is true that government can be horribly inefficient and easily distracted by misplaced priorities and right out corruption. Strangely, however, I have yet to meet anyone who favors large Progressive programs like universal health care or college education who seems to appreciate this. Yet it is, without a doubt, the biggest barrier to giving any of this even a try.

What’s important is that the case has to be made all over again. Government itself needs to be re-invented and re-proven. And that’s the core of Forward America.

Focusing on this first we arrive very naturally at a data driven concept of government which relies on technology to deliver programs and regulate the market as efficiently as possible. This may not sound like it meets traditional liberal goals in any meaningful way, and you’re right. But what this can and should do is lower the cost and burden of various programs and point ton continuous improvement.

We only have one.

Consider, for example, environmental regulation. While most people favor protecting the environment many feel there is a trade-off in terms of effect on the business climate. There is some evidence suggesting that regulation, as we know it, is onerous. But does it have to be? Let’s say there was a technology-based method of real time monitoring of industrial sites which sampled air and water, alerting authorities immediately if and only if there is a violation. Would pro-business regulation skeptics support this kind of system as a replacement for current regulations?

The answer is that everyone I have proposed this to favors it, to a person. One highly pro-business Republican hugged me for suggesting it. Forward, America!

The same can be said for a wide variety of benefits. SNAP has seen a great improvement in efficiency since they moved to a card-based system, and now serves many more people. So let’s move all benefits to systems like this. And let’s collect data along the way to see what’s actually going on. We could pay our taxes monthly, for example, and reduce the onerous cost of compliance dramatically even before we reform the tax code.

Well, the laws do apply to you. Plus a little more.

You may say, “There isn’t a technology based solution to many problems, such as mass shootings and police killings. This can’t fix everything.” And you’re right. Forward America is going to have to be about a lot more than technology. Then again, body cams help a lot and simply collecting data on police activities can help us understand exactly what the problem is in and for black and white.

What is critical here is more than just moving beyond the details which dazzle, what matters is getting something done. There is no better organizing tool than simple getting people together for shared hard work. The first lesson has to be that our problems aren’t unsolvable and that if we get down to work we can indeed get something done. There are good reasons to stay engaged and lend your voice – along with heart and arm and brain.

Those of you who are especially cynical may say, “But isn’t Forward America really just an extreme example of Clintonian ‘triangulation’, or finding a third way apart from the existing debate?” Of course it is. But honestly, does anyone think that American voters aren’t hungry for a genuinely new way – like the voters of France?

Can America be saved by the Technocrats? It’s certainly worth a try. Where we are now is a total mess.

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4 thoughts on “Forward, America!

  1. Meh. It may work but it needs to be fleshed out a lot. Then again Macron said nothing and look where he got.

  2. I don’t know what to make of this. Politics is emotionally driven. Can government be “data driven” beyond the tiresome cliche? I dunno.

    • I agree. The idea is to generate excitement with the shiny object of tech. It isn’t enough by itself, so success early on with transforming lives will have to be reached. So your criticism is not only valid, it points to the primary goal – generate some real “Oprah moments”.

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