Covid-19 is destructive and instructive. Each day we read about the destructive; give me a minute to deal with the instructive.
Covid-19 escaped, created a pandemic, began to destroy jobs, moved on to bankruptcies and most revealingly shone a harsh spotlight on public affairs.
Regardless of political affiliation, I suspect that even the most credulous voter is not happy. And, while there are many public employees who should be thanked, there are many elected officials who should be retired.
The dominant theme of the public response has been: Save Lives. Yet, preparedness has often been at cross-purposes. What should we expect from the central government? State governments? The private sector? Regardless of warnings from well-credentialed persons and institutions, America was not prepared.
So, the collective we, governments, have been scrambling for the last three months while society has largely shut down. The destruction of lives, jobs and businesses has been dramatic.
We have all learned words and phrases that were largely outside our vocabularies before the pandemic. I still have trouble saying epidemiologist. But the one word I welcome is efficacy. Public health policy turns on science and efficacy defines the goals, analyses and tests.
I suspect if I had an engineering degree, or for that matter any degree in the sciences, the word efficacy would be a frequently used word. I have a law degree and was instructed in finding truth through advocacy and judicial processes. Evidence is crucial, but clever advocacy can prevail.
The post-pandemic world needs to be reorganized around “efficacy.” Clever argumentation will not disappear, but must be met by a strong countervailing force. The constant question should be: What will work and at what cost? We need a Center for Efficacy in Public Policy.
Our debt load demands that priorities for spending will have to be more carefully measured regardless of the loose talk by those who use the public treasury as another political tool. Is efficacy in spending even imaginable?
Now I am not naïve; bringing a greater emphasis on science in political science will not be easily done. Nor will rigorous assessments resolve many of the issues that divide us. Yet, while beyond the scope of this column, there are a number of issues that can and should submit to more rigorous and objective analysis by a respected bi-partisan center on efficacy—public health policy would be a good place to start.
And while many Universities have public policy programs today’s universities often fall victim to decided ideological predispositions. Harvard’s Kennedy School for example aims high. This is its mission: “to improve public policy and leadership so people can live in safer, freer, more just, and more prosperous societies.” Its delivery is compromised.
And that brings me around to more local thoughts.
Annapolis is 30 miles from Washington. It is the seat of a state government that sweeps in a large percentage of the people who work in Washington.
Underpinning our Constitution are The Federalist Papers penned by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay. Today public voices rarely talk about the 85 papers, but talk about the importance of State’s role in government—federalism.
Fast forwarding in warp speed to today, States and their Governors have been given a too rare spotlight as they have led the forward shaping of policies responding to Covid-19. This dispersal of power has wrong-footed political reporters and pundits who largely focus on Washington. While the supposed center of power has received a disproportionate amount of attention, the more astute journalists have turned to Governors.
As New York’s approach has been measured against Florida and Georgia against California another focus has been efficacy. Again the virus is the handmaiden. Policies and vaccines and therapeutics are measured against results. When life and death is on the line, opinions are like clouds on a breezy day.
So how does Annapolis fit into this context? Annapolis—its leaders—could see its potential to be the Silicon Valley of public performance just as San Jose, California is an epicenter of digital breakthroughs.
Francis Fukuyama, author of The End of History and the Last Man, a 1992 book on political evolution, theorized that the success of “liberal democracy and free market capitalism” signaled “the end of humanity’s sociocultural evolution”. Many seek to rebut his theory citing the apparent success of China and its authoritarian approach to both politics and markets—autocracy versus democracy.
America needs an efficacy-based voice that both help it improve governance and democracy’s global story. Where better than Annapolis to locate such an initiative. And I would add, who better to lead a new force than Governor Larry Hogan who will soon begin the lame duck stage of his two terms.
Governor Hogan has been the Chair of the National Governors Association and his leadership enjoys bi-partisan respect. Plus his leadership, during this moment when the importance of State governments has rarely been higher, makes him a natural. National prominence is difficult to earn and quick to fade. If the Governor asked for my advice, I would suggest he use his national network to create an efficacy in government organization. An organization that, using the tools of the technology intensive intelligence age, can help voters and leaders alike discern the best practices of governance.
Ideology, partisanship, and polarization surge and retreat throughout history. But if “the end of history” is to be seriously considered, efficacy must be an important criterion. Efficacy should be understood as the true progressive political approach. Annapolis with its many assets could become a vital center in that cause.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.