Navel gazing: yes we are at year’s end. People who write regularly, drawing attention to their work by making predictions, put the best case on their hits and misses in 2023. I am more interested in what the past tells us we need to do in the future. There was a time when past developments were the future; that time has passed.
America needs a new generation of leaders. Persons whose minds have been shaped and tested by the vast potential of breakthrough technologies. Leaders who are not pickled in an irreversible liquid of preservatives. It will take strong and insightful leadership to push beyond clever bureaucrats and congressional grandees who run interference for the embedded interests that stand in the way.
Inertia in public leadership is a fact. Its causes are many and unlocking it is complicated. How, for example, can you transition from weapons that cost hundreds of thousands or millions per copy to ones that take advantage of artificial intelligence and robotics that at scale cost relatively little? After all, we have a defense industry built on producing new generations of old weapons. They will fight hard to maintain the status quo.
I use national defense metaphorically as its outcomes are measurable. Results can’t hide. America gained early wins in Afghanistan and Iraq and then began to lose. The horrifying withdrawal from Afghanistan was telling. Low tides are revealing.
In general, how can we overcome vested interests that have shaped lawmakers and laws that protect their market advantage? A political gerontocracy lacks the energy and motivation to lead us out of those riptides. The incumbents, politicians and industrialists alike, have hired clever infighters to protect the advantages of incumbency. They do a good job often at the expense of America. What’s so wrong, the political incumbents ask: “I got elected.”
Beyond how we prevent and/or fight wars and terrorists, how do we reform medicine to deliver better outcomes with fewer costs? I wonder how much money, for example, is spent just handling government paperwork? Administrative personnel piled on top of administrative personnel. And, how many first medical contacts could be screened and potentially resolved by Telehealth as artificial intelligence tools communicating with body sensors point to necessary steps? Steps that don’t require driving to a crowded waiting room, listening for your name to be called while wondering about the person one seat away who is hacking away.
We live in a rapidly changing world. Computing capabilities and now the potential of artificial intelligence are offering new and tested ways forward. The guardians of the status quo will fight back and at our expense. And the last thing we can afford is piling new regulatory agencies on top of old ones. The FCC, my old bailiwick, was given its basic mission in 1934. Update it or fold it.
Presidents do not have to be technicians, but they must understand the world of possibilities. And they must be able to speak about them and lead collaborative bipartisan initiatives to deliver results. If America is to continue leading the world, this will not be optional.
I used to be a Republican and then changed my affiliation to Independent. Both major Parties and many of their candidates are simply not up to the task. They are a dull amber—frozen by time and emotions. As we look toward the next election the one thing we can count on is aggressive repartee on abortion, guns and real or imagined forms of discrimination. These redundancies often take up our attention span.
I am looking for competition in how we choose our leaders because I can’t imagine a moment when renewal is more important. In my view neither Party should choose a nominee who is approximately my age to be its standard-bearer. Regardless, our first and most important standard should be renewal. And renewal must be led. Renewal of civility. A renewed integrity in our fiscal affairs. And a tough-minded assessment of the causes of inertia paired with a sharp pencil and a persevering backbone. The nation’s voters intuitively know that Donald Trump will press his advantage with incivility and that President Biden will not deploy the sharp pencil.
As things stand we have a conspiracy theorist with a good family name enjoying better net favorability ratings than either Biden or Trump. Could Robert Kennedy Jr. (RFK) be the next President? Many of his conspiracy theories revolve around the origins of Covid 19 and the public seems to be unsettled on a range of questions presented by the pandemic’s origin and government commands.
Over time I have written about particular policy positions. Now, in some respects, I have a single position. I want somebody who can win with majority support and who has the talent necessary to be a real leader in a rapidly changing world. My preference: a center-right leader.
But, count on it, pickled leadership will deliver talking points screened by political operatives. In short, their angle of view will be from the rear view mirror. The media should take note of its own culpability in our stunted times and skip over the brush fires to look for the sparks—the causes. We, the electorate, can only avoid our own culpability if we are impatient with the superficial and search out the sparks of real leadership.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.