Sometimes the best ideas come out of left field. I was sitting at home on Friday night reading Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat. Friedman was talking about the Open Source movement as one of the 10 things that “flattened the world.” For those of you not quite geeky enough to know what the Open Source movement is, think Linux. Open Source is the opposite of Microsoft. Open Source depends upon the brilliance of individuals working together to continually create and improve software to meet a need, rather than buoy a balance sheet. Open Source is just that – open code, available for anyone to use (for the most part).
While I’m not ready to throw away my Microsoft software (don’t laugh, you snob, I run enterprise systems and the stuff works great for us), the idea of tapping into the collective brilliance of individuals to solve problems made perfect sense to me. After writing my We’re#1, We’re#1? piece a few weeks ago, I’ve struggled with how we fix the problems we face as a nation. Then it hit me – if we can make software that rivals the the best that corporations can provide, why can’t we make a political system that rivals, no, exceeds the best (or more often the worst) of the party system. In effect, Open Source politics.
I know I’m not original with that thought. A quick search on the web finds a bunch of references to the idea, especially as it relates to either Howard Dean’s Internet fund raising, The Daily Kos, or Moveon.org. Certainly, the blogging community is a great example of empowering individuals to interact with the system. Also, the ability to raise money directly from the people has opened up financing to more potential candidates than ever before. However, neither of these examples is exactly what I was thinking of. I’m not looking for a way for the parties to communicate easier with the masses, I’m looking for a way to find solutions to problems, to fix what’s broken, to use our collective intelligence to move beyond the parties.
We need to replace ideology with ideas. We need to replace partisanship with pragmatism wherever we can. We have to take a step back from the fighting and start looking at the fixing, or so help me God, America is a goner. The parties, BOTH parties, are too often closed source companies whose sole job is self perpetuation. Both sides are to beholden to a mix-mash of string pullers making sure that nothing really gets done the way it should be.
It has to start with realizing the guys in power now, in both parties, are a big part of the problem. Further, and no offense to my conservative readers out there, but you need to realize your party is the one with all the power, and your party has made a royal mess of the situation. I’m going to keep attacking Tom Delay, Bill Frist and George Bush because they are at the heart of why we need Open Source politics – institutionalized cronyism and illogical policies. You can’t keep overspending and underfunding. You can’t grow the deficit and shrink the revenue forever. You can’t keep hiring people with no ability to do the job. You endanger the country. You sabotage the future. Is that fair?
Liberals, we have a lot of issues we need to come to grips with as well. We are dysfunctional. We are a party that looks at the past more often than to the future. We are caught in a cycle of should-be and once-was instead of what-is, and it kills us. Globalization happened. Get over it. Get out of bed with the labor movement. Manufacturing counts for less than 10% of the jobs in this country. It is the sign of a maturing economy to increase productivity and reduce labor. It happened in the farm industry (once 70% of the country’s occupations, now 2% – and yet we have abundant food). It happened in manufacturing. It happened again in technology. Yet we still thrive on the whole. Ignoring the reality of globilization will not stop its march, but will hamstring us from being able to compete and prosper in it. And we CAN prosper.
Both groups, you need to stop making abortion your only issue. It is legal. The majority of Americans want it to be legal in some form or another. The majority of Americans also want it to be the option of LAST resort. We have to move on to a place in this country where both ideas are given equal merit. At the point a woman (or girl) needs an abortion, it’s already too late. The damage is done.
We have to make education our top priority. I don’t just mean “No Child Left Behind”, but an aggressive program to push science, math and engineering. That’s the future. We need fewer communications majors and more people who can design the communication networks. That’s the ONLY way we will compete with the Chinas and Indias (and Cambodias, Vietnams, and every other emerging economy) of the world. We need to focus on a local level, a state level, and a federal level. We need to look at creative ways to inspire and encourage kids to pursue these fields. The day’s when we could count on attracting the best and brightest from the rest of the world to mask our domestic indifference is waning.
If you’re conservative that means you need to pony up the money to better the schools. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, but investing in education is strategic pragmatism. It is how we secure our nation’s future. It is the only way we will compete in the new world. You get what you pay for, and if you look at our kid’s scores, you are getting what you pay for. We should lead the world in education. Our children should be the world’s elite. It is a sin that the richest nation in the history of the world has to settle for mediocrity. When every kid in this country has the shot at a great education, it won’t just be America that is better off, but all of humanity.
If you’re a liberal you need to get over your hatred of vouchers, your desire to be “fair” and your ass-kissing of the unions. That made me very unpopular with my own crowd, but I stand by it. Teachers should be paid better than they are. They should get more support than they do. They should be seen as the critical cog in the future of our society that they are (and not just by some cheesy Hallmark card on Teachers Appreciation Day). However they need to be open to change too. If a school is failing, I understand that vouchers will cause money to leave the school. I also know that I don’t care. I don’t go to a restaurant that sucks to support the cooks. The point is getting each kid the best education possible. While eventually an ‘F” school may get better, how many kids have to suffer until that time?
Bad teachers need to be fired. I went to school in one of the crappiest school systems in the country (hence my grammar and spelling). I had great teachers, and I had teachers that hadn’t done more than babysit a class in a decade. I had teachers so bad that in any other business they would have been fired for incompetence years ago. We need to insist that good teachers are rewarded and bad teachers find new careers. Schools are a business and we are the employers. We do not owe bad teachers a living. We do owe good teachers whatever they need to do their jobs.
It’s more than just teachers and paychecks, though. We have to find new ideas. I read recently about a school near me that went back to same sex classrooms to see if it had an impact on test scores. The difference was dramatic. When separated, the kids taking their competency test destroyed the kids in mixed classrooms. Does that mean we do away with co-ed learning? I doubt it, but maybe we need to keep experimenting with the idea. At the end of the day, it isn’t about equity, but about education.
Another idea is economic integration. Mixing schools not by race, but by income. An example is Wake County, North Carolina where the school board passed a resolution that no school should have more than 40% of its students eligible for free or reduced lunch and no more than 25% reading below grade level. That means busing kids to mix up the schools, but the results are encouraging. Concentrations of low income students in one place is a huge barrier to academic success. Economic integration helps pull kids up that might have been lost.
None of these ideas will fix education in this country by themselves any more than just throwing money at the problem will – but that’s not the point. We need to be open to trying things and judge them on their results, not pre-judge them because of the (political) repercussions. When something works, let’s expand it, improve it, implement it in other places and see how it does. The heart of the Open Source movement.
How would you solve the problems we face? How would you tackle the health care crisis? Social Security? How would you fix the illegal immigration issue? What ideas do you have for cutting down on pointless litigation and corporate malfeasance? What do you think we can do to return religion back to where it belongs – in front of the congregation, not the court room? How do we find ways to respect the fact that EVERYONE deserves equal treatment under the law, and the law needs to protect the rights of people we don’t like as strongly as it does those we do. I don’t have the answers (contrary to what my wife may say I really think), but someone does. Someone has an idea that needs to be explored. We need to cherry pick those ideas from the Left and the Right. From the Private and the Public sectors.
Then we need to put people in place who are willing to implement the ideas. We need to convince the ones that are there, or find new ones to replace them.
Open Source politics – ideas not ideology. Are you game?