The highlight of my week was a visit to Disney World with my grandchildren, Maggie and Robert. Robert celebrated his sixth birthday in the Magic Kingdom, and it can’t get any better than a birthday at Disney World if you’re turning six.
Callista and I enjoyed ourselves too. And I was just thinking about going up to Mickey Mouse and apologizing for insulting him by calling the presidential debate process “Mickey Mouse” when I got some news.
There’s one candidate who’s defying the undignified, endless process of 60-second sound bites and consultant-crafted attack ads our presidential election process has become.
One candidate actually seems to want to have an adult conversation about who we choose to lead our country.
The Mayor Is Coming to Cooper Union
Regular readers of “Wining the Future” will remember back in February when former New York Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo and I debated at historic Cooper Union in New York City.
Cooper Union was the site of a speech by Abraham Lincoln that arguably made him President. Gov. Cuomo and I appeared there for a different reason: to show that it was possible for leaders from opposing political parties to have a thoughtful and civilized conversation about the future of America — and that it could be done without the long list of rules political consultants insist upon. In fact, there were no rules. We each spoke for 30 minutes. Then, Tim Russert from NBC News posed challenging questions to each of us, which produced a substantive issue-driven exchange.
The ‘Nine Nineties in Nine’ Challenge: Who Will Accept Next?
Just before the debate at Cooper Union, I was walking in mid-town Manhattan and ran into former Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R). I told him I was going to issue a challenge to all the presidential candidates to join me in trying to restore dignity and sanity to our election process.
I told Mayor Giuliani that I would ask candidates to take this pledge:
“If I receive my party’s nomination for President of the United States, I pledge to participate in nine, 90-minute dialogues in the nine weeks before the general election with my opponent. In the Lincoln-Douglas style, I will agree to debate my opponent with only a time-keeper and to insist upon no rules. I understand it will be just me and my solutions and my opponent with theirs.”
Major Giuliani accepted right there, on the sidewalk of the city he transformed. Also, on September 25, he will be appearing at Cooper Union.
I’ve had some tough things to say about our presidential election process and how it diminishes the good men and women who are forced to jump through its hoops. But this is one example of a candidate who is doing it right, for the good not just of himself and his candidacy but of the entire country. Congratulations, Mayor Giuliani.
The Difference Between Disney World and the Detroit Public Schools
Meanwhile, back at Disney World, as I wandered around with Maggie and Robert, I was reminded once again of the world that works and the world that fails.
Disney works. It works because it’s focused on the customer. It works because every person it hires is trained to serve the customer, creating a happy experience, being positive and making sure that all the young people have a good time. And, of course, if the young people have a good time, then Grandpa does pretty well too.
So what is the difference between Disney World and a Detroit public school system that only graduates 21% of incoming freshmen on time? Or a Washington, D.C., school system that not only can’t tell you how many students are enrolled but also can’t tell you how many teachers are being paid?
What is the reason Disney works but the federal government can’t meet the demand it itself created for passports for its citizens? And can’t help successfully rebuild New Orleans a full two years after the disaster that destroyed it?
One: A Happy, Functioning, Efficient Place. The Other: A Mess.
As I walked around that, happy, functioning, efficient place, my conclusion was that the difference between Disney World and the federal government is that there are certain, basic principles that Disney understands.
Disney understands that you first have to have a market. There has to be a customer. And the customer has to be at the center of what you’re doing.
Then you have to have a budget for investments so that you have the right technology and can take advantage of the right opportunities.
And you have to evolve constantly. The Disney of 1955 is not the Disney of 2007.
And finally, you have to be willing to listen carefully to your customers and your employees.
Government bureaucracies today do none of those things. We have obsolete, paper-based bureaucracies that don’t take care of their employees and don’t teach their employees to take care of citizens. The result is not a happy, functioning, efficient place. The result is a mess.
There Is No Reason We Can’t Take the Principles of the World That Works and Apply Them in Washington
I will leave you today with this suggestion: The next time you get a chance to visit the world that works — at Disney World or anywhere else — look around and say to yourself, “There is no reason we can’t take these principles and apply them in Washington, in our state capitals, city councils and school boards.”
This basic fact — that we can take the principles that work so well in the private sector and apply them to how we govern ourselves — is why I founded American Solutions. Our belief is that politics can and should take second place to meeting the challenge of restoring basic American principles to government. We have to have a fundamental approach to thinking through what we’re doing before we worry about the politics of what we’re doing.
And I hope that you get a chance, sometime in the near future, to visit a place that works, and ask yourself the same question I did: If they can do it, why can’t our government?
P.S. — Remember the landmark Supreme Court decision last month that loosened the restrictions on free speech imposed by McCain-Feingold on groups like Wisconsin Right to Life? Congressman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) is making sure that federal law enforcement honors this victory for free speech. Legislation drafted by Congressman Pence to prohibit the Justice Department from enforcing the criminal penalties under McCain-Feingold that censored groups like Wisconsin Right to Life passed the House last week. Chalk up another victory for the American people and for free speech.
P.P.S. — My novel co-authored with Bill Forstchen, Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8, is doing very well. If you have not read it, I invite you to pick up a copy soon or at least before I release my next book.