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The Next Deal
The Future Of Public Life In The Information Age
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The Next Deal
The Next Deal
The Future of Public Life
in the Infarmmtion Age
Copyright © 2000 by Andrei Cherny
Published by Basic Books,
A Member of the Perseus Books Group
All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied incritical articles and reviews. For information, address Basic Books, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022-5299.
A CIP catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress.
The paper used in this publication meets the requirements of the American. National Standard for Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials Z39.48-1984.
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Designed by Nighthawk Design
To my parents and brother, Daniel
There is one great basic fact which underlies all the questions that are discussed on the political platform at the present moment. That singular fact is that nothing is done in this country as it was done twenty years ago. We are in the presence of a new organization of society. Our life has broken away from, the past. The life of America is not the life it was twenty years ago. We have changed our economic conditions absolutely, from top to bottom; and with our economic society, the organization of our life. The old political formulas do not fit the present problems; they read now like documents taken out of a forgotten age.
—WOODROW WILSON, 1912
Twas the night before Christmas and all through the White House, not a creature was stirring—except for me. Actually, it was the afternoon before Christmas, but the White House really was practically deserted with the exception of this then 22-year-old speech-writer. Just about everyone who worked there had gone home to spend the day with their loved ones. Not having family in town or much else better to do, I had volunteered to write President Clinton’s Saturday radio address for that week. It was a stirring and epic oration on expanded Medicare benefits for colorectal cancer screenings. You might remember it.
The plan had been to tape the speech in the early afternoon for delivery a few days later. I was supposed to be on hand in case Clinton had any questions. (As it would turn out, my only role was holding his dogj Buddy, so that he wouldn’t bark during the taping.) But, as was his annual habit, Clinton had gone off to do last-minute Christmas shopping. So I sat alone in my office and waited and waited and waited. Finally, bored beyond belief, I left the building and wandered around downtown Washington, It was just about as empty. The Mall was barren—the malls were where the action was that day, I ended up in a local bookstore and there my eye caught a book that I had read several years earlier: the 1949 classic The Vital Center, Half a century ago, when Arthur Schlesinger wrote The Vital Center, it was an exposition on his age. Tempered by the despondence of the Great Depression, energized by the hope of the New Deal, and finally formed in the crucible of the Second World War, Schlesinger’s generation came of age at a moment when the world was consumed by a global ideological struggle. In The Vital Center, Schlesinger held out a revitalized liberal democracy as an alternative to totalitarian communism on onesidc and absolutist fascism on the other.
At that moment, Schlcsingcr’s book seemed like much more than a reminder of a former era. In fact, President Clinton and those of us who worked in his administration were attempting to create a domestic version of this vital center—an alternative to the morally and intellectually exhausted options of New Deal liberalism and Reagan Revolution conservatism. Clinton himself had been saying this with various degrees of explicitness since before he began running for president. But what occurred to me as I saw The Vital Center sitting there on the shelf was that this was not going to work. The vision of a “Third Way” somewhere between—or beyond—traditional liberalism and conservatism would have to be more daring and iarsighted if it were going to be a long-run solution and nor just a short-term alternative. Events outside of Washington—particularly the rise of the Information Age with its different ways of working and living—would require a whole new set of ideas about what government does and why it does it. That moment in the Washington bookstore was when I first thought about trying to write a book that would explain clearly why today’s America—and my generation in particular—is looking for a new role for government that is radically different from the one we had in the twentieth century.
In the months and years to come, I thought about but shelved that notion numerous times. But one thing kept on prodding me to return to thinking about this project: conversations I had with some of the brightest, most deservedly respected, visionary people in Washington. Nearly to a person, they all said the same thing: in this time of peace, prosperity, and the convergence of the two parries’ policy positions, the great issues are gone in American politics, the debates are settled, the battles over.
If there is one central idea in this book, it is this: that there is, in fact, a big battle yet to be waged—remaking American government and community life so that they can reflect the values of the new Information Age. This is neither about broadband regulation nor computers in the classrooms nor putting government services on-line. It is about the bigger picture: completely rethinking government’s mission, just as we have rethought the way business works over the past decade. New Economy companies find success to the extent that they can do something that was unthinkable for corporations a generation and a century ago—giving their customers a larger universe of choices, putting decision-making power into customers’ hands, and personalizing services to fit the needs and desires of each individual. However, government still largely runs on the old business model.—one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter programs. We have an assembly line government in an Internet age. This disconnect is the big issue facing American politics—an issue that will only grow in importance as the Information Age takes root and those who were reared in it grow up. This book is about how to bridge that disconnect, about how to move America’s public life from the twentieth century into the twenty-first.
The book starts with two introductory chapters that serve as the background to the books main argument. In What I Saw at the Devolution, I discuss the politics of the 1990s—what President Clinton tried to accomplish, where he succeeded, and where he ultimately fell short. I believe history will give him a great deal of credit for realizing that Industrial Age ideas about government no longer fit the times. However, while Clinton ended the old debate about government, he failed to enunciate a compelling new vision for government’s role. Left with no alternatives, Washington—a city whose swamps have been filled but whose morass grows ever deeper—now increasingly revolves around obsolete orthodoxies, purblind partisanship, and powerful interest groups with a vested dependence on the status quo. American politics today runs on the vapors of scandal and soundbites because its governing ideologies have run out of fuel.
In The New Generation of Choice, I describe the generation of Americans who will come to have the responsibility of leading the nation into the new century. They were born after the moral revolutions of the 1960s radically expanded their lifestyle choices and came of age at a time when technological revolutions give them a plethora of choices to make when they shop, work, learn, and play. Since the ability to make their own choices is a fundamental expectation, I call these young people the Choice Generation. As with previous generations, government will come to adapt to their outlook.
Having introduced the politics and the people that will shape the new century, I move to the main part of the book Parts I, II, and III deal with the economy, government, and community respectively. The three parts tell parallel stories. In each area, they trace America’s Journey from the individualistic Agricultural, Age of the nineteenth century to the hierarchical Industrial Age of the twentieth century to the decentralized Information Age of the twenty-first century. Part I: The Fall and Rise of the Individual analyzes the economy, following Americans’ voyage from farms to factories to the technologically-based, empowering workplaces of today and tomorrow. During this long, strange trip the belief that individuals should be at the heart of the economy was lost—and now has been found again.
Part II: The Choice Revolution tells the story of how American leaders have responded to the times throughout the nations history by adapting government to new conditions. The goal of those who have believed in progress has remained remarkably constant: working toward equality of opportunity. Yet, different moments have called for different ways to accomplish this. Thomas Jefferson promoted a bottom-up belief that would open the doors of democracy by expanding suffrage and protect the open frontier of the independent farmer from the encroaching power of the landed aristocracy and new manufacturers. In the Progressive Era, Woodrow Wilson sought to update this vision, breaking up the concentrated power of the new industrial corporations and giving more power to individuals. But in the battle of ideas, he was defeated by Theodore Roosevelt who advocated a different view—a top-down theory that built up centralized government programs to give workers security and to stand up to big businesses on behalf of the people. This was the view that dominated twentieth-century conceptions of government—in both Democratic and Republican administrations. I argue that the time has come for another big change; returning to the spirit of Jefferson and Wilson and the bottom-up philosophy that animated their woridview. A Choice Revolution in government entails expanding democracy by taking decision-making power out of the hands of bureaucrats and powerful interests and giving it to ordinary Americans. I argue that all Americans should have the ability to make choices for themselves and their families now reserved for only the wealthiest: the privilege to choose schools for their kids, choose their own health care plans, choose how to save for their retirement.
Finally, Part III: The New Responsibility reminds us that more individual power doesn’t mean more selfish individualism. With more choices, Americans—as the community involvement of the Choice Generation demonstrates—will be more likely to do more for their neighbors. Government should provide an extra push in this direction. The New Responsibility will ask Americans to adopt a greater burden in caring for their community and doing what Franklin Roosevelt said we’d all have to do so long ago: “shoulder our common load.”
The philosopher George Santayana famously wrote that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This book rests on the premise that the opposite holds true as well. Those who cannot remember the past might not be able to repeat it. The task for today’s young people—the Choice Generation—is to replicate in our day the accomplishment of the Progressive Generation of Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt, They rethought the rules of public life to fit the contours of a new America, Our job is to do the same.
This is a book about America’s future, not a work of history. Although it does look at America’s past through a particular prism, it does so in seeking to answer the desperate need for an understanding of where America now finds herself. Like ships lost in a fog, the more confused our leaders grow the louder they blare and bleat. Most are frantically searching for a roadniap in a world where too much of our politics is divorced from the past and from, the story of American life.
Any attempt to retell history is, at its heart, an exercise in simplification. No canvass could ever be big enough to hold the thousand contradictory details and shadows of human life. Thus history is little more than myths backed up by evidence. But the myths a people tell, and the memories they hold true, can never be separated from “facts.” Daniel Boorstin wrote that “Our American past always speaks to us with two voices: the voice of the past, and the voice of the present.” By listening to yesterday—its history and its myths—perhaps we can gain a greater understanding of where we are today. And in listening to those dim, faint echoes of voices from, a bygone world, perhaps we will hear their whisper in the wind, their directions on how to move forward.
The New Deal and the idea of government it embodied was a signal achievement of the twentieth century. Its basic parameters have long been accepted by both parties and it has become part of the fabric of American life. Personally, I am the product of the public school system (in fact, my junior high was built by the New Deal Works Progress Administration), I went to college with federal student loans and grants, my family relied on food stamps to get by when I was a child, my grandmother awaits her Social Security check every month. But the New Deal was created as a response to the America of the last century. As the economy and society changes, Americans want more: a new mission for government that responds to today’s America. They are waiting for the next deal.
What I Saw at the Devolution
This work is not designed to set forth novel or startling political doctrines. It is intended rather as a report on the fundamental enterprise of reexamination and self-criticism which liberalism has undergone in the last decade. The leaders in this enterprise have been the wiser men of an, older generation. But its chief beneficiaries have been my own contemporaries; and its main consequence, I believe, has been to create a new and distinct political generation.
—Arthur Schlesinger, Opening words of The Vital Center, 1949
A SPECIAL DAY
“Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.” It should have been no surprise that, try as I might, I couldn’t get this Noel Coward ditty out of my head, Washington, D.C.’s dog days of summer have been legendary since the swamp was first declared our nation’s capital, as the bastard child of a constitutional compromise—and the summer of 1997 was no exception. Search as I might, however, I found few canines and even fewer foreigners as the temperature rose to oppressive levels. Instead, looking around the South Lawn of the White House, I saw a very different—though no less peculiar—menagerie braving Washington’s heat and humidity on this most August day.
If I had not known better, I would almost have thought it was a heat-induced mirage. Striding out of the White House through a flag-bordered path and headed toward a platform on the South Lawn, not arm, in arm but close, were the then opposing leaders of American political power; Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, It reminded me of the comic books of my childhood, when DC Comics’ Batman and Marvel Comics’ Spiderman would team up, Superman would battle Muhammad All, or all the superheroes would gather together for a “special” issue that every kid just had to have. Along with Clinton and Gingrich on the platform in front of me, and certainly even hotter than I was because of the powerful camera lights trained in their direction, were Vice President Al Gore, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Budget Chairman John Kasich, and dozens of members of Congress from both parties. They had come together to end nearly three decades of wanton fiscal insanity in Washington and sign the first balanced budget in a generation.
Since the moment I had started my Job as Vice President Gore’s senior speechwriter two months earlier, the push for a balanced budget had been at the center of my work, “Today is the reason I came to the White House,” I wrote in my diary the day the budget deal was first announced. The provisions of the agreement would have a real impact on the millions of Americans who would benefit from the lower interest rates that would result from the balanced budget, from the plans tax cut for middle-class families, from the health insurance it provided for low-income children, and from the college tuition assistance it offered. On top of all this, the achievement of a balanced budget after decades of debate and false starts was an, impoitant milestone for the country and for the New Democrat brand of thinking that Clinton had brought to the White House. I had come to Washington to make a difference. Now, the day after my 22nd birthday and less than two months since I had graduated from college, I was, Forrest Gump-like, standing in a sacred spot on a truly historic day.
But gnawing at my pride was a profound disquietude. At first I couldn’t identify its source. The event was proceeding almost exactly as planned. Logistical preparations had begun days earlier in the West Wing basement office of Communications Director Ann Lewis. There, every last detail was haggled out—from the programs (parchment embossed with the presidential seal) to the invitees (over one thousand guests) to the music (answering a demand for “patriotic music,” one meeting participant was forced to defend the choice of the Marine Band, “The Marine Band is ‘the Presidents Own,’” she sputtered. “They’re about as American as you can get—and they’re pretty wonderful!”). A top White House official poked her head in on her way out on the town that Friday evening and made sure the staff understood the significance of what we were doing. “This is the president’s day,” she directed. “Lets make it special for him.”
Although the show was proceeding as planned, my uneasiness grew steadily stronger. The day was bigger than even the president of the United States, The assembled potentates had come to lower the curtain on something larger than three decades of budget deficits. Along with its specific importance, the balanced budget had a symbolic significance as well. Though I didn’t realize it just then, I was witnessing the end of the political history of twentieth-century America. As historian John Lukacs has pointed out, internationally, the twentieth century really lasted from Franz Ferdinand’s assassination and the beginning of World War I in 1914 to the moment when East Europeans tore apart the Iron Curtain with their bare hands and ended the Cold War in 1989. In that “short century,” the forces of democracy and freedom faced off against monarchy, fascism, and communism—and emerged triumphant. Similarly, American politics of the twentieth century lasted from August 1910, when former President Theodore Roosevelt unveiled his New Nationalism vision of big government, to August 1997, when President Bill Clinton acknowledged that expanding centralized, top-down, bureaucratic government was a thing of the past.
It is no accident that these events occurred when they did. Roosevelt and his cousin Franklin, who put the New Nationalism into practice, lived in a time when centralized, assembly line factories were the cutting edge. They defined Americans’ thinking about how the world should be ordered and structured. Bill Clinton came to power at a moment when this world was rapidly retreating and being replaced by a New Economy that was—perhaps above ail else—intrinsically skeptical of centralized power and institutions, including government as Americans have come-to know it. Clinton’s signing of the balanced budget was a recognition of the awesome power the global financial markets now have in shaping American prosperity; it sent a clear message to Americans that government would live within Its means, abiding by the same rules as the middle class; but most of all it made clear that the old, traditional choices about government had stopped being viable. Democratic big government programs and huge Republican tax giveaways—both types of government by “hot check”—were no longer live options.
As the ceremony went on, I began to realize why I was so anxious. When, I was very young, my parents ran a small theater company in Los Angeles, I had grown up backstage, memorizing all the actors’ parts and knowing when the audience would laugh far before they had any inkling of an Impending guffaw. This predictability gave me comfort. Now, as the budget signing dragged on, an Idea gnawed at me: a page was turning—and no one had their lines for the next act. In the years since that hot summer of 1997, politics has stumbled and bumbled along, without moving forward. The new lines still have not been written. This is the unfinished business of American politics.
A CRISIS OF THE OLD ORDER
Noticing the rest of my White House colleagues, and trying desperately to fit in and to avoid passing out, I took the lead of the men and doffed my suit jacket, slinging It ever so casually over my shoulder. I strained—unsuccessfully—to keep my mind from drifting during the interminable speeches. Watching the behavior of the assembled crowd, an observer might not have realized that this was such a crucial new beginning for the president, his party, and the nation. Over there was Press Secretary Mike McCurry sharing a laugh with a couple other staffers under the shade of a gnarled old tree. There was one of my colleagues, In his late 20s and—like Thomas Hobbes’ life in a state of nature—“nasty, brutish, and short,” sidling up to a pretty summer intern. There was a cluster of staffers from the First Lady’s Office—Hularyland, they called it—folding their programs into makeshift fens. And every so often, people would interrupt whatever they were doing to glance over at the made-for-TV production taking place before them.
It was indeed a special, day for President Clinton—one that no one could have foreseen when he began his campaign for the White House. Running for president in 1992, Clinton had found a country gripped by a crisis of the old order. Confronted by the demise of the Cold War and the final death throes of the comfortable post—World War II economic arrangements, Americans felt certain of little more than decline—in their own. standard of living, in the nation’s economic well-being and social fabric, in their hopes for their children’s future.
It was clearly a moment for creative, innovative leadership. But as the 1990s began, both parties were AWOL. The Republican Party gloried in the creed of greed and viewed crime and welfare as wedge issues to be exploited rather than problems to be solved. It had raised taxes on the middle class and presided over an era of dwindling growth. Education was an afterthought and Republican economic strategy was largely limited to the notion of rewarding those privileged with wealth and praying that their leftover trickle would sustain the nation.
At the same time, Americans saw a Democratic Party that had rejected its historic role as the tribune of the middle class. Many Democrats downplayed traditional values of work, family, responsibility faith—labeling them the province of the Republicans. Paying more attention to rights than to responsibilities, to criminals than to victims, to bureaucrats than to entrepreneurs, to America’s international sins than to its capacity for global good, the Democratic Party had lost its way.
Both parties concentrated on playing their assigned roles in the formulaic debate between “left” and “right” that characterized politics for most of the century—a debate that had become devoid of meaning, dependent on memory, derisive of the many. If American politics of the 1980s and early 1990s was a school dance, the Republicans would be locked in a chaste, but fervent embrace of economic elitism; the Democrats would be doing the lambada with cultural elitism; and America’s middle class would be standing unobtrusively alone by the punch bowl. Politics was playing to those who favored French mustard—and ignoring those who used “French’s.” It rejected their interests and sneered at their values.
As the 1992 campaign got under way, few in Washington seemed to recognize this problem. But, far away from the glare of the national media’s spotlight, a Democratic contender who had developed a cohesive cririque of not only the Republican record but his own party’s as well was preparing to step forward.
- On Sale
- Jan 7, 2008
- Page Count
- 284 pages
- Basic Books