One of my readers asked me to comment (from a decision-making perspective) on a question to Maureen Dowd in last Saturday’s New York Times, and on her response. Times reader Steve Henry asked:
How hopeful are you that America will be an example of innovation and forward-thinking once again?
Ms. Dowd responded:
We're in a dark ages now, with the government pulling science backward, and suffocating research on stem cells, and encouraging the idea that Intelligent Design is a legitimate alternative to evolution studies. This is a long way from JFK's New Frontier attitude. But I think most Americans like to be on the cutting edge of culture and science, and will want that reflected, sooner or later, in our leaders.
Leadership is relative: America used to be a more obvious exemplar of innovation and forward thinking because we perceived that the rest of the world was not. We are still prodigious inventors of products and ideas; we have lagged in some areas. If Mr. Henry is asking if the America "brand" will regain preeminence for innovation and thinking in new ways, I do not know or much care. Setting aside the importance of discovery for a moment, I do know that we have room for improving and benefiting from existing knowledge. The point Mr. Henry implies about America setting an example is valid, but not in the way I believe he intends it.
I say Ms. Dowd's crack about America being in the dark ages is pure polemics. I also say that no Americans get what they vote for because the whole process is not set up to listen and represent us.
For example, what American consumer would ever shop at a store that had only two products for sale, few differences between each product, deceptive packaging and advertising, no performance guarantee, and no returns allowed? For decades, American democratic elections have been one candidate away from being autocratic. Once the slim majority "buys" their product—a new leader, we are saddled with an entourage of special interest advisors, experts, and opportunists that were not disclosed during the ad campaign. This is high stakes governance-supporting-leadership gone mad. And don’t get me started about the current administration!
What if we had a la carte elections based on issues? What if we could vote both for the right to bear arms and for women’s choice…without having to compromise our views with one candidate? What if the aggregated results of a la carte elections became the de facto mandate for the winner? No more asking them what they would do if elected. Millions of us are going to tell them exactly what to do and the consequences of not performing. All cabinet choices, deputies, and other officials are held accountable for the leader’s—and thereby our, success.
Wow, that puts a lot of trust in American voters. What is wrong with that?