In a political party system where many view the Center as a mere blend between two purer ideologies of conservatism and progressivism, Independent Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York often has something creative to say. Elected in a city of greater diversity, wealth and population than many US states and several countries, he’s someone that’s perhaps worth listening to.
Yet is he actually creative? On last week’s broadcast of NBC’s Meet the Press, Mr. Mayor did not disappoint. In a roundtable segment in which he was accompanied by Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Obama Adviser David Axelrod and moderator David Gregory, he touched upon a number of topics with a degree of freedom we don’t often see from our two well known – and all too well defined – major political parties. It was an agility of one comfortable with his thought process and willing to share it in a tone of Centrist legitimacy. It was a thought process less defined by what most think of as “politics.”
From campaign to classroom, I enjoy asking – can the Center be more creative? There are innovative ideas with which many candidates and electeds begin to dance. Yet depth and commitment to these thoughts are soon avoided. Platform alignment beckons and surrounds, reminding us that certain thoughtlines are politically off limits.
Might we, as viewers of this wider political play, enjoy the Center less for its brand of calm consensus, and more for its ability to think safely outside of the box?
Bloomberg gave anticipatory energy to this point, commencing with the topic of immigration. Rather than stating a well-baked party line around issues of the border, he asked whether the Federal government could link immigration policy to the regeneration of now-emptied industrial cities. The cities needed people, businesses, a new economy. Who better to fulfill this than those who dream of being part of America? That’s not a slogan. It’s an idea.
Yet perhaps the Mayor most enjoyed speaking about how government should debate its budget.
“We are all looking at this in the wrong way…The debate should be about whether or not government should provide this kind of education or that, this kind of defense or that,… (don’t) let the money drive it…the most important thing is…what are we going to do to keep the country safe and growing?”
It’s basic common sense, plus a tinge of revolution. What he suggested was a way to turn the current budget process on its head. Or perhaps flip it back on its own two feet?
‘Decide first, then raise the money.’ In current political thought, there’s a sense of big or small government, red or blue, guns or butter. Each fighting for their own assigned incremental raise. Questioning whether a program is still relevant often falls to the wayside, with the raise itself being the definition of political success. And we ask why the government spends too much.
Mayor Bloomberg suggested a holistic view of the government function, a rethinking of the machine. Neither red nor blue, but according to possibility. Zero-based budgeting, common to social benefit efforts and new startups in emerging industries, is a naturally creative process as well as one that tends to budgets that balance. It also looks outside of traditional funding sources, combining a number of stakeholders in both contribution and mission.
You may call it a leap to consider this, because the government just doesn’t work that way. Precisely. And that way? Government isn’t working.
Consider that free of the platform constraints of party, and its associated traditions and favors, a mind at the Center can, as one of my favorite Apple ad campaigns says, think differently.
Bloomberg’s answers may have been idealistic. But the creative questions he asked were spot on.