Tuesday, August 31, 2004
The Next Deal: the Future of Public Life in the Information Age, by Andrei Cherny, is alternately inspiring and boring! On the one hand, it's written by a guy who was Al Gore's senior speechwriter at the age of 21. He understands the cultural psyche of what he calls the "Choice Generation", a demographic raised taking technological innovations for granted. On the other hand, he wastes too many pages detailing the differences in Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian approaches to government. The additional (and extensive) background on Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson is fascinating, but could have been discussed more summarily.
Cherny describes how American government and public policies adapted from an agrarian era to the Industrial Age, and how they now need to shift to reflect the society of the Information Age. The American public increasingly has more consumer choices (hence the "Choice Generation"); however, government still maintains an outdated, bureaucratic, one-size-must-fit-all approach to programs. One of Cherny's main points is that the Information Age is redefining the individual in a way that the Industrial Age could not, and that America is at a time in its economic history where political structures need to change to reflect the "Next Deal" in American public life.
From a cultural historian's perspective, the paradigm shift Cherny describes is fascinating; from a social organizer's, it's exciting! In another hundred and fifty years, what will be the next wave of political change? What policies can we implement now to make government more and truly accessble to people?
It's when he outlines specific policies that he's most riveting. He supports charter schools, mandatory community service for young people, stock market investment of Social Security funds, and nationwide ballot initiatives, among other issues. Half the time, I found myself nodding a silent "Right on!" to some insights. Other times, I questioned whether Cherny is really a Democrat!!!
I do have a few problems with Cherny's overall survey of American history in the late-nineteenth century. He omitted much of the urban Progressive agendas in his zeal to describe the nostalgia-based populism of the rural Midwest. It's a little ironic not to examine urban working conditions in a discussion of the Industrial Age!
Ironically, I'm writing this as I just returned from a state Dem party fundraiser. As someone recruited by an old family friend to be on the advisory council against an anti-tax initiative. As a volunteer for one of the Dem gubernatorial candidates (the more radical one who will probably lose in the primary). Why do I go to these functions? Why do I volunteer? =) There are always very few young people. And the music always sucks!!!!!
Who will be the next world-changing policy-makers? Will they try to work within the current political system, or seek to influence it from outside? Which is more effective? Ah, the age-old questions. And I digress...
At any rate, there's a point at which politically-conscious young people choose where to best expend their energy, using their own particular and unique skills. The Next Deal offers some suggestions and thinking points for those of us who are already policy wonks!
What we need is a clarion call for our peers who have already given up on government.