We are at a crossroads. The federal government is dysfunctional. Our problems appear intractable.
That’s the message David Gergen delivered to more than 1,000 state legislators, legislative staff and others at the closing session of NCSL’s 2013 Legislative Summit in Atlanta.
“Washington, D.C., is broken,” said Gergen, former adviser to four presidents, Harvard professor of public service, and political analyst for CNN. And the likelihood that the federal government will get its act together anytime soon is dim.
That’s why state lawmakers can make a huge difference in increasing the public’s confidence in politicians and government, Gergen said. Most good policy has come from the states, and “Americans are depending on state legislators” to make up for the poor leadership shown in our nation’s capital, to champion bipartisan cooperation, to keep the country’s governance vibrant, to stand up to the partisan ideological fights that end up hurting everyone, he said.
He recounted his days in the White House serving presidents from both parties. That generation, which served in World War II, placed their loyalty to America above their loyalty to party and ideological stances. “They were strong Democrats. They were strong Republicans. But above all they were strong Americans. They served not for ideological reasons, but to solve problems. They focused on bipartisan solutions.” You couldn’t tell the Ds from the Rs, he said.
He contrasted that kind of commitment to service with the divisiveness shown by today’s baby boomer politicians, who grew up in the tumultuous ’60 with a war that divided rather than united. Add to that all the social change of the time that divided people between those who held to the “old values" from those embracing the “new values” and it is no wonder this generation is dysfunctional and can’t compromise, he said.
Although his assessment of the current state of federalism was dismal, he cited some reasons for hope:
- The real possibility of achieving energy independence.
- The technological innovation of Americans that is second to none.
- The wonderful qualities shown by our nation’s youth, the “finest people since the WWII generation,” he said.
- The willingness of young veterans returning from current conflicts to ask, “How can we continue to serve our country here at home?”
Gergen’s remarks reflected the theme of the Summit: Build Strong States. After a standing ovation, those who heard Gergen’s talk appeared inspired to go home to lead and strengthen their own communities.