"All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin."
What President John F. Kennedy said in his 1961 Inaugural Address, concerning the need for focus and patience on the long road to fulfilling the nation's international aims, applies with equal force to achieving the dramatic changes proposed here for reshaping American government.
It won't be easy, and it won't be quick. It will be necessary to enact partial (some will say: piecemeal) reforms. It will be necessary to compromise.
But is foolish to imagine that dramatic change in the functions, financing, and form of government cannot happen.
Skeptics always scoff at the possibility of change, especially big change. They delight in the frustration of reformers. They relish the obstacles that stand in the way. Too often, the skeptics make their living as paid lobbyists and publicists of the interests that oppose change.
But only those individuals who are blissfully ignorant of human nature and history can claim that big change never happens.
The creation of a new nation, "conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal," was impossible. Until it occurred in 1776.
The abolition of slavery in the United States was impossible. Until it occurred in 1865.
Women would never get the right to vote. Until they did.
A large-scale system of economic security could never get through Congress or be ratified by the Supreme Court. Until it was.
Farm workers would never get the right to organize unions and bargain collectively for better wages and working conditions. Until they did.
National health insurance was impossible. Until, with Obamacare, it became the law.
Human beings would never walk on the moon. Until Neil Armstrong took one small step for a man, and a giant leap for mankind.
The history of American government is the history of impossible reforms. Usually, those impossible reforms not only become law, but become so embedded in the affection of the American people and the fabric of American life--think of abolition, votes for women, Social Security and Medicare--that they will never, ever be undone.
So let us begin.
The movement to put in place a new design for American government necessarily rest on two assumptions. First, the numbers work. Second, it is possible to build the new design step-by-step. Both assumptions are valid.
Running the Numbers
It may be true, as Sir Henry Maine said, that law is “secreted in the interstices of procedure.”
The effort to put American government in its proper place, however, is "secreted in the interstices" of budgets: thousands of local budgets, 50 state budgets, and the federal budget.
The proposed new design of American government is entirely possible. It defies no laws of fiscal gravity. To implement the new design, budgets at levels of government will have to be fundamentally reshaped. But just as people--elected officials--create budgets, elected officials can refashion them. If the will is there, the numbers work. Continue reading ->
Building the Future
It is likewise possible to build the new design of American government step-by-step.
Almost no good public policy is implemented in a single swoop. Even the abolition of slavery took place in phases: first in northern and midwestern states; then, thanks to the Emancipation Proclamation, in the ten southern states in rebellion; finally, with the 13th Amendment, in the United States as a whole.
Similarly, it took years for federal minimum wage legislation (first enacted in 1938) to apply to workers in the air transport industry (1949); certain retail trade employees (1961); employees in public schools, nursing homes, laundries, the entire construction industry, and big farms (1967); and many domestic workers (1974). Read More ->
The same step-by-step process recurs in policy after policy. Even the Medicare we know today was not enacted all at once. For instance, it was not until President George W. Bush and Congress enacted Part D that Medicare covered prescription drugs. Read More ->
Two proverbs should guide the process: "The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine" and "Do not let the perfect become the enemy of the good." Much as it would be desirable to enact the proposed re-design of American government all at once, a practical approach of phasing in the new model should be embraced whenever the opportunity arises, while constantly looking out for unique moments to go further and faster. Continue reading ->