Zakaria Quote Of The Day

the American system … proved to be flexible, resourceful, and resilient, able to correct mistakes and shift its attention. A focus on American economic decline prevented it. The problem today is that the American political system seems to have lost its ability to create broad coalitions that solve complex issues.

This struck me as eerily similar to Thomas Friedman’s quote of Goldman’s Robert Hormats in his excellent op-ed in today’s NY TImes:

We used to try harder and do better. After Sputnik, we came together
as a nation and responded with a technology, infrastructure and
education surge, notes Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs
International. After the 1973 oil crisis, we came together and made
dramatic improvements in energy efficiency. After Social Security
became imperiled in the early 1980s, we came together and fixed it for
that moment. “But today,” added Hormats, “the political system seems
incapable of producing a critical mass to support any kind of serious
long-term reform.”

The optimist in me sees the emergence of consensus on at least one issue – our political system is messed up and needs a sharp kick in the butt.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Liz

    Unfortunately, it often takes a crisis situation to bring people together and get them to act (e.g. Pearl Harbor, 9/11, Triangle Shirtwaist Fire). There are just some many ordinary and extraordinary things that demand our attention and keep our focus on short-term results rather than looking for long-term solutions. It is a perennial problem in human political and social behavior. Exceptions can occur like the public response to An Inconvenient Truth. But look at the situation in Iraq…I almost think that it will take some absolutely catastrophic event before our leaders get together, get out the “maintenance” mindset, and create an exit strategy.I think that both technology and business have reinforced and accentuated the social focus on short-term results and solutions. There is very little reward for patient, thoughtful, reflective work when you compare it with risktaking that might make someone millions or flop spectacularly. You really need to look to American political history as well as the changing pace/sense of time & rewards in our public and private lives for an understanding of why we, as a country, can’t seem to solve the problems we know lie ahead for us and our children.

  2. John

    The biggest challenges we are facing as a nation involve compromise. When it comes to health care, insurance companies, trial lawyers and consumers/unions need to make sacrifices. Same is true of entitlements, tax a little more, spend a little less and later and we’ll get there. I think both McCain and Obama have a combination of leadership and ability to compromise to push for progress on these issues. It’s the US public (and their representatives in Congress), I’m concerned about.

  3. heif

    How does a political system get de-messed up? How does it get a kick in the butt? I’m not really sure what a political system is or how it works, but I suspect it becomes most capable of producing a critical mass to support something when the People are Organized. Resources respond to Organized People.Organized doesn’t mean trends, zeitgeist, just-in-time blog/tweet proclamations, nor even virtual groups or petitions. Being “Organized” means more than the socialgraph believing or agreeing. Having Meetings or Meetups doesn’t necessarily mean the People are Organized, either. An Organization is a network in-place to wield power, keep momentum going, and get stuff done. Movements happen from emergent self-organized networks of people.Al Gore runs a giant TV ad campaign about an ambiguous “We” — but wouldn’t it be amazingly powerful if there were an actual, forceful organization with a 100-million-strong dues-paying MEMBER-base that the political (& business) system needs to face?Obama’s “we” has 1.5M+ invested ($) members self-organized to respond, do, act, influence.Douglas Rushkoff spoke well about related topics at the PDF Conference this week:

  4. DonRyan


  5. Emil Sotirov

    Historically, the political system used to be mostly about the “horizontal” economic and power divide (poor vs. rich) – a relatively simple one-dimensional discourse field. Now, it is mostly about the multiple “vertical” cultural divides (no surprise people vote against their economic interest) – a very fragmented discourse field.What’s more important – gay marriage or the health care crisis? “Both are important” is not a political answer – from the “we as a nation” point of view.May be we should strive to achieve some sort of a national (and international probably) agreement about the few top issues that should be accepted as truly “political” (concerning most people) – and make it a requirement for all participants to leave out “special interest” issues.Yes, it sounds a bit like “back to the 20th century” solution – I see the problem.

  6. Michael F. Martin

    But political reform won’t help if it isn’t cognizant of the root cause of the problem, which is that we live in a much larger, much more decentralized institution now than ever before in history. Globalization is both the cause of and solution to our problems.The designers of large-scale institutions, such as multinational corporations, need to take a page from the drafters of our constitution, and realize that large-scale, long-term institutions need to be organized around a common vision of the world. What common vision is more inclusive than a vision of individual human happiness (“life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”)?The good news is that thanks to modern neuroscience, we know more than ever before about how to design institutions that will facilitate cooperation and foster human happiness. Institutional designer need to optimize organizations to maximize two variables: money and time.

  7. awilensky

    What has the marked the essential stench of today’s brand of politics? I would say that it has been the gradual creation of a professional political class, i.e., the family business, which includes a revolving door of legislators and their staffs instantly transiting into high level lobbying and fed contractor positions. The ability to wield influence has become a goal unto itself, thereby creating an attitude of expediency to get elected, no matter what the rhetoric must sound like. And also, to stay in office, to align all one’s moves to preserve one’s office, so that any courageous act to truly serve The People, at one’s potential political disadvantage, is no longer palatable to today’s politicians.Self interest has permeated the society, starting with the politicians of this privileged professional class. It is obscene that one must raise millions to take a Senate seat, 100s of millions to run a competitive presidential campaign. The two current candidates have so many skeletons, that they have a mutual pact to not bring up the worst of Mcain’s involvement with the S&L scandal (never held to account for his part in engineering it), and Obama’s filthy lucre gained in the Chicago real estate business,

    1. fredwilson

      Yes, but we can go back to john adams to see that in action

      1. awilensky

        You, sir are the archetype of the former gentleman farmers who tended their fair properties in New England, and then served a few months as legislators in the nation’s capital. Then, at the end of the legislative session, these fine men, taking nothing from the process but their sense of satisfaction in serving the public good, would return to tend their fields and lavish loving attention on their indentured. Some had offspring with the aforementioned, I surmise.Instead of a pastoral, agrarian patriot, Fred Wilson, you sow and reap great ideas and capital; lead us, oh brave stalwart, lead us all armed with hoe, rake, and weed-whacker, and we Yankees all from New England, a militia of VC hopefuls, will march down RT 95 to the nation’s capital and create a new fund of trust stored up for our fellow citizens. The true equity in our cause being a new era of honest political service, the exit being an end to the bought and paid for politician.

        1. fredwilson

          i think mike bloomberg is more up for that than me

    2. Michael F. Martin

      People are the same now as they have ever been. The difference is that there’s more money at stake, and less transparency into its comings and goings. It’s not the politicians per se. We all need to take responsibility for the flaws in our system of government.

  8. kidmercury

    any political change begins with 9/11 truth, everything else is just a waste of time that beats around the issue. but the american people are too immature, naive, irresponsible, uninformed, and afraid to talk about that, so i guess we’ll just have to give more than half our money to a criminal government that literally uses that money to bomb us.the truth will set you free. always has, always will.

  9. Timothy Post

    Fred:While you’re over here in Europe, I highly recommend you spend a quick weekend down in Dubai. I think you’ll find the trip a valuable eye-opener which will give you additional perspective on some of the global macro trends.

    1. fredwilson

      I very much want to visit Dubai

  10. slowblogger

    Same here in Korea. I think we are entering the clash of geography and faith. Used to be that people living in the same region had a relatively homogeneous faith. And people also assumed that they, living in the same region, need to follow the same rules. I think that is less relevant now, due to increased spectrum of ideas and beliefs within a region.My hypothetical solution is to divide a country into smaller pieces. In the US case, it could be delegating more to the states. Then, you can move to a state whose rules you agree more with. Likewise, any region with a same language has a few states with different ideologies so that you can live with people whom you share beliefs with without learning foreidn languages. But immigration based on faith, that is “you are accepted if you share our beliefs”, could complement it.

    1. Emil Sotirov

      I have the impression that migration based on beliefs/culture is well under way in the US… across the states.

    2. Brian

      Sounds like the 10th amendment. In fact, this sounds like the United States before Hoover and FDR trampled over the constitution.Most of our problems would solve themselves if we returned to federalism. We need more freedom and less centralized organization.

  11. thomasl824

    This has gone on for at least a full generation. The complete lack of regard for our long tern needs is the norm. Congress is beyond inept. Our two presidential candidates have the floor but will either one of them address these issues.