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Mayor Mike Bloomberg on party gridlock
Our best (undeclared) presidential candidate
For the first time, I'm turning this page over to another, and a politician at that! But not an ordinary politician. I consider the U.S. to be in deep trouble in many ways; we need a leader who's a proven doer, a problem solver. who has useful and creative ideas and knows how to get them implemented. The following is the keynote address by Mayor Bloomberg at a conference: "Ceasefire! Bridging the Political Divide" in Los Angeles in June, 2007. Only the introductory pleasantries are skipped. It's still a bit longer than the usual essay here, but it's worth reading to the end. Learn more about Mike Bloomberg (and encourage him to run) at his home page: http://www.mikebloomberg.com/en/. (H.P.Lillebo)
“America, the most wonderful country in the world, is at a crossroads. The politics of partisanship and the resulting inaction and excuses have paralyzed decision-making, primarily at the federal level, and the big issues of the day are not being addressed – leaving our future in jeopardy. We can accept this, or we can say – ‘Enough is enough!’ – and together, build a bright future for our country.
“I believe we can turn around our country’s current, wrong-headed course, if we start basing our actions on ideas, shared values, and a commitment to solve problems without regard for party.
“The point of this conference is clear: We do not have to settle for the same old politics. We do not have to accept the tired debate between the left and right, between Democrats and Republicans, between Congress and the White House. We can and we must declare a ceasefire – and move America forward.
“While a ceasefire is essential, it must also be followed by change. Real change – not the word, but the deed. Not slogans, but a fundamentally different way of behaving – one built on cooperation and collaboration. And it is needed now – because more than ever, Washington is sinking into a swamp of dysfunction. No matter who’s in charge, sadly today, Partisanship is King.
“It’s become a contest to one-up the other side and to score points for the next election. Decisions in DC these days are more political and less issue-based than ever before, and the consequences have been disastrous.
“When you go to Washington now, you can feel a sense of fear in the air – the fear to do anything, or say anything, that might affect the polls, or give the other side an advantage, or offend a special interest.
“This is paralyzing our government – and it’s leading our elected officials to push all the big, long-term problems onto future generations: health care, Social Security, budget deficits, global warming, immigration, you name it.
“Their inaction and partisan gridlock are destroying our relationships and reputation around the world.
“They are hurting our economic competitiveness, driving scientific and medical discoveries overseas, and jeopardizing our future as the land of hope and opportunity.
“They see the same problems we do – but instead of working to address their causes, and provide real, lasting solutions, they tinker around the edges, offering band-aids that do nothing to stop the bleeding, giving us platitudes and promises, but never the decisive and merit-based legislation and leadership we need. And then they blame the other side when the bleeding gets worse.
“Why do elected officials act this way? I think there’s one primary answer. They become hooked on partisanship because it offers easy answers. And then it consumes them. It becomes their most important priority.
“We’re talking about a serious and harmful addiction here – and unfortunately, there’s no ‘Promises’ clinic for partisanship. (If there were, maybe they’d stop making so many empty promises.)
“The United States can’t afford for this to continue. We need Washington to break its addiction, to end the gridlock, and to stop passing the buck to future generations. Leading from the front: It’s what built America.
“But these days, the federal government isn’t at the front – it’s cowering in the back corner of the room, ducking responsibility and hoping no one notices. The fact is, if our country is going to meet the challenges of this new century, all of us who care more about progress than political parties have to take responsibility for ending this corrosive culture of partisanship.
“It’s a waste of time pointing fingers and blaming the politicians in Washington – after all, we elected them. No, if we want to Washington to change – we, the individual voters they work for – have to hold them accountable.
“From my experience, ending Washington paralysis means bridging divides, but that does not mean just splitting differences. That’s a common political cop out. Public policy is not a zero sum game – and it doesn’t always have to be a partisan tug-of-war.
“Believe it or not, by thinking outside the box, and bringing creative ideas to the table…we can increase the overall benefits that both sides can achieve – and more importantly, what America can achieve.
“That’s what nonpartisanship permits: Getting big things done, producing real results, solving tough problems. And that’s what governors and mayors around the country have been doing – stepping in to solve national problems at the local level, and two great examples of that are Governor Schwarzenegger and Mayor Villaraigosa.
“City and state governments can lead the way, but in many cases, our actions are limited and pre-empted by federal policies. And more and more, those policies are failing to keep up with the times and failing to respond to our most-pressing problems.
“We need Washington to begin taking the same nonpartisan, results-oriented approach that is succeeding in cities and states. As I see it, this approach is based on five values of leadership that have the power to bridge the partisan divide, and it all begins with independence.
“There’s nothing wrong with belonging to a political party – about two-thirds of us do. But joining a party doesn’t mean you should stop thinking for yourself! Neither party has God on its side, a monopoly on good ideas, or a lock on any single fiscal, social, or moral philosophy. And anyone who says their party does, and the other party doesn’t, is either a fraud or just not a good student of history.
“For progress, ideas have to be evaluated on their merits, not their origins. Conventional wisdom must be challenged, no matter whose it is, and we must be willing to call ‘em like we see ‘em – no matter what party discipline demands. In other words – independence from politics, ideology, and petty selfishness.
“Nonpartisan leadership also requires good, old fashioned honesty and common sense, and I know you’ll hear a lot of it from the participants at this conference.
“Promising ‘a chicken in every pot’ without saying who’d pay for it, or a ‘secret plan to end the war’ or falling back on ‘motherhood and apple pie’ without taking on the underlying reasons why families are struggling to make ends meet – that’s not honesty. Nor is it honest to make decisions that are guided by political expediency or campaign donations – or by faith-based science, instead of real science.
“Honesty means having the courage tell the public the unvarnished truth – the downsides as well as the upsides, the costs as well as the benefits, and it means making decisions on the merits – and only on the merits.
“I would bet that all the participants at this conference will tell you that voters respect and reward those who rely on common sense to make their decisions and who refuse to let politics get in the way of doing the right thing for the right reasons. Taking this approach builds trust, and trust bridges divides. Governors and mayors are doing this every day, and Washington has to start doing it as well.
“Innovation is another value central to nonpartisan leadership. Innovation means discarding the tired old solutions that haven’t worked, digging down to the roots of a problem and finding creative new ways to attack its source. There are a lot of great ideas out there – and goodness knows I don’t have them all. But I’ve made my career encouraging others to develop them – and being willing to try them, even when no one else will.
“Sure, supporting new programs or policies that are untested requires vision and creativity – and that support may be unpopular. But you can’t be innovative unless you’re courageous. ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained.’
“My experience has been that if you have the facts on your side, and you’ve taken a common sense approach – even if you must admit you’re not sure it will work, even if you have to tweak it as you go along, and particularly if you accept input from others – well, pretty soon, people will be lining up to join you because they’ll respect your willingness to try and your openness as to the risks. But it’s up to you to have the courage to go out on that limb first.
“That leads us to another key value of nonpartisan leadership: teamwork. Teamwork means reaching across the aisle – or down Pennsylvania Avenue – so that you can build the coalitions needed to get things done. But it also means having the best team at home. In both business and government, the organization is only as good as the people who work there.
“We need to hire the best, not the ‘yes men’ or the campaign contributors or the politically connected. I know that sounds obvious, but it’s not in Washington. Where in the Constitution is it written that ambassadors have to be big campaign donors? Passing over career diplomats to give big donors jobs as ambassadors to important foreign posts doesn’t help us overseas at the very time that international opportunities and problems should be central to the federal government’s planning and work.
“Where does it say we should care about campaign experience or party affiliation in filling federal jobs? That doesn’t get us the best and the brightest. Sadly, both parties do it, in both the legislative and executive branches, and both are wrong. I believe you hire the most qualified people, you empower them, you lead them and you hold them accountable.
“And that’s the fifth value of nonpartisan leadership: accountability. I built my company on the idea of getting and delivering better data and listening to what the data told me, even when the message wasn’t pleasant. By using data to manage, you can hold yourself and others accountable for results. But today, in Washington, instead of using data to make decisions and manage, the data is manipulated to justify ideological positions.
“That’s why ideologues throw good money after bad, while results-oriented managers fix problems before they invest more money. Too often, failing government agencies get bigger budgets, while successful agencies have their budgets cut – because government caters to those screaming the loudest, regardless of what they’re screaming about. In business, it’s exactly the opposite! You invest more in the most successful departments, and less in those that aren’t performing.
“Never – or almost never in government – do we promote those who deliver and dismiss those who don’t. Never – or almost never in government – do we admit when we fall short of our objectives. Never – or almost never in government – do we ourselves accept blame, and say ‘I screwed up.’ It’s always: ‘Mistakes were made,’ or ‘Round up the usual suspects,’ or ‘Let’s hold a hearing.’ Accountability? Good luck!
“All of these values that are essential to nonpartisan leadership apply to business, philanthropy, and government – but in government, they are too often absent, especially at the federal level. The good news is that mayors and governors around the country are embracing these values to tackle the big challenges – and let me touch briefly on a few of them, and how it’s possible to bridge the divides and make real change.
“Let’s start with education, because it’s an issue that Mayor Villaraigosa and I both care deeply about and it’s a challenge that both our cities share. When I came into office, New York’s school system was failing – badly. And that means we were failing our children.
“Tinkering at the margins for decades had done nothing. In New York, we needed to get at the source of the problem – the inefficient, ineffective, and unaccountable Board of Education. With support from school leaders and parent leaders, we won control of the system – and that’s when the hard work began.
“When we announced that we would end social promotion, when we pushed to lengthen the school day to provide extra help for struggling students, when we worked to expand the number of charter schools, when we cut the bureaucracy and re-directed that money into the classroom, – at each point, we were met with resistance from politicians and special interests. But in each case, we succeeded.
“We even raised our teachers’ salaries 43% – thereby winning union support and cooperation on critical issues, including a new program of merit pay for our principles. Change is hard, and I understand that. But you can’t solve problems by wishing them away, or studying them to death, or deferring to ideological advocacy groups.
“You have to make the hard decisions, take action, and hold people accountable for results: teachers, principals, parents, students – and, particularly with mayoral control, the Mayor and his appointees. The results? Steady progress that is real and has great promise for the future: Graduation rates have increased 20% and test scores have climbed 10% in Reading and more than 20% in Math. We still have a long way to go, but our children are finally getting the opportunities they deserve.
“As bad as our schools were five years ago, the outlook for New York’s economy back then was even worse. After 9/11, the conventional wisdom was that businesses would flee and that New York would return to the bad old days of the 1970s, when the City nearly went bankrupt. And there was good reason to be worried: We faced a major fiscal crisis and the largest budget deficits in our City’s history.
“But we learned a lesson from the 1970s: when you stop investing in the future, you begin a downward spiral – and we refused to let that happen. So we made the hard decisions to cut the budget without gutting it – insisting that agencies do more with less by achieving efficiency gains.
“And, as a last resort, we even raised property taxes and income taxes on high-earners so that we’d have the money to incent our municipal employees to continue providing the great services that underpin the City’s quality of life. As you can imagine, cutting spending and raising taxes didn’t make me the most popular man in town. (I like to think of it as a character building experience.)
“But I’ll tell you what it did do: it allowed us to close the huge budget deficits, balance the books and continue investing in the future: building new schools, revitalizing old industrial areas, creating the largest affordable housing program in the nation, supporting our cultural institutions, parks, libraries, and universities, and expanding world-wide advertising to attract businesses and tourists. And, because public safety is the foundation of economic growth, we developed innovative ways to crack down on crime and illegal guns. As a result, we’ve driven down crime by nearly 30%.
“None of the initiatives we’ve undertaken are owned by the Republican or Democratic party. They were built on the values of nonpartisan leadership – and they paid off. Today, New York City’s economy is stronger than ever.
“We’ve turned a $5 billion deficit into a $4 billion surplus. We drove annual unemployment last year to an all-time low, and our bond rating has climbed to an all-time high – Double AA. The income tax hikes have been rolled back. The property tax hikes have been offset through $400 rebates for homeowners.
“And this year, we’re not only cutting property taxes by 7%, we’re also making cuts of more than $200 million to the sales tax and to small business taxes. But we’re not just using the surplus to cut taxes – we’re also saving for the future.
“Consider this: the federal government requires cities and states to set aside funding for future retirees’ pensions – but not for future retirees’ health care, even though we have just as much of an obligation to pay their health care costs as we do their pensions. This makes no sense! Keeping a debt off the books doesn’t make it go away.
“So we’ve done something fairly unusual: we’ve set up a trust fund for future retiree health care costs, and we’ve dedicated $2.5 billion from our surplus to it. That’s just basic fiscal responsibility.
“In politics, there’s nothing so tempting for elected officials as a surplus. They treat it like found money, and instead of saving it for a rainy day, or for their elderly parents, they go on a spending binge. Of course, in Washington, they go on spending binges with or without a surplus. (After all, they print money, something we don’t do at the state or city level.) These binges mean that they don’t balance the budget, or shore up Social Security, or control health care costs.
“They just keep expanding programs and services and helping themselves to more and more pork barrel grants. A culture of instant gratification dominates Washington – and guess who’s going to pay the bill? Your children and my children.
“The health care costs that we’re saving for in New York highlight another serious problem: Not only is our country’s heath care system terribly expensive, it’s terribly ineffective. It offers no incentives for doctors or patients to seek preventive care. As a result, problems that could be prevented with cheap, basic medicines – or with smarter personal choices, especially around diet, exercise, and smoking – are not dealt with effectively until they become life-threatening and require expensive procedures.
“Even though American medicine is the most advanced in the world, we’re not delivering the simple preventive medicine that would allow us to avoid more diseases and live longer, healthier lives. In the U.S. we pay 50% more for health care than they do in Europe, but on average, we live about four years less. In effect, we’re paying more for the privilege of getting sick and dying early. Once again, it makes no sense. And once again, no one in Washington is talking about how to fix it.
“Instead, everyone talks about universal health insurance coverage – and that’s an important goal. But it’s not going to change the underlying reality of a health care system that is both too expensive and too ineffective.
“That’s why in New York, not only have we dramatically increased health insurance coverage… we’re moving toward a ‘pay-for-prevention’ system of health-care that rewards primary care doctors who succeed in keeping people out of hospitals. A key step in doing this is providing prevention-oriented electronic health records to help doctors deliver better preventive care.
“These records can also enable private insurers, as well as Medicaid and Medicare, to hold doctors accountable for their patients’ performance – and to pay more to the doctors who keep their patients healthy.
“Helping people live longer, healthier lives is also why we’re working so hard to increase screenings for breast and colon cancer and HIV, to keep criminals from getting illegal guns, to keep kids from starting to smoke – and to help more adults quit, to get more nutritious meals in our public schools… and to keep artificial trans fats out of our restaurants – and out of our arteries.
“Once again, these are not Republican or Democratic ideas. These are ideas that can cut to the root of our problems – and by doing that, have the power to cut through partisanship.
“We’re pursuing the same approach in our effort to reduce poverty – and if ever there was an area that called out for new ideas, this is it.
“For instance, we’re investing in a pilot program that offers financial incentives to poor families to encourage them to make the decisions that will help them rise out of poverty. Under the program, which is being funded with $50 million in privately raised money, you can earn cash if you keep your doctors’ appointments, maintain high rates of school attendance and participate in job training programs. This approach has worked well in Mexico, but it’s never been tried in the U.S.
“We don’t know if it will work here. But we do know two things: One, if we stick to the same old big government solutions, we’ll fail. And two: Financial incentives encourage higher performance – that’s human nature, and it’s the foundation of our economic system. Why shouldn’t government tap into that? It may prove to be the best anti-poverty program since the Earned Income Tax Credit – or it may not. But we’re not afraid to find out.
“Finally, I want to close by touching on an issue that an increasing number of people on both sides of the aisle now recognize as a major problem: global warming. The science is undeniable and more than any other issue, climate change highlights the need for long-term plans that begin tackling the causes of the problem now.
“California has been a leader in this effort, and I want to applaud both Governor Schwarzenegger and Mayor Villaraigosa for their bold plans. And let’s not forget Rich Daley of Chicago and Manny Diaz of Miami, who I think will go down as two of history’s great mayors or dozens of other mayors across the country who have been leading on environmental issues for many years.
“In New York, we’ve laid out our own detailed plans for reducing carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030, investing in more clean energy sources and creating a truly sustainable 21st century city. And like California, where we are today, we’re going to hold ourselves accountable for meeting interim goals.
“Anybody can set goals for 2050 or 2070 – but we’ll never reach them unless we start taking real action now. That’s what California and New York are doing, along with many other cities and states. But the federal legislators, as usual, are way behind the curve – laughably setting goals for some far off time when they’ll all be dead and can’t be held accountable!
“With global warming, and with all the areas I’ve talked about, we face big challenges. We’re not going to solve them with small ideas, or with the same old approaches or with partisan attacks. That’s why – no matter what the issue – cities and states are experimenting with innovative new ideas and bold new approaches. And that’s the way it should be. As Justice Brandeis once said, states are the laboratories of democracy. We’re the pioneers.
“We can’t wait for Washington to come riding to the rescue. We’ve got to take the bull by the horns and do it ourselves. That means embracing pragmatism over partisanship, ideas over ideology, and results over rhetoric.
“Tonight and tomorrow, we’re lucky to have an all-star line-up of speakers, beginning with three people who know this issue as well as anyone: Judy Woodruff, Nancy Kassebaum Baker, and Harold Ford, Jr., who recently gave us the benefit of his wisdom in New York. We’re going to be hearing a lot of bold ideas and practical, common sense thinking at this conference.
“I’m looking forward to it – because together, we really have a chance to change America for the better. We know it won’t be easy – change never is. But when you start thinking about the potential benefits of what we can achieve, you start realizing that this challenge is too important to ignore.
“Partisanship may be King in Washington – but the rest of us don’t have to pay tribute. Standing at the crossroads, we have a choice: In one direction: the swamp of dysfunction. And in the other: the bridge that spans the divide.
“All of us in this room know the right way – let’s get moving. Thank you.”
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