The Mind of Al Gore 6

Wilber uses the term “postmodernism” to refer to the rejection of the claim that science is value-free and objective. He thinks the basic impulse of postmodernism is right, but that postmodernists have gone too far, and have produced a flatland of their own. Mod¬ernists reduced the universe to external facts, he explains; postmod¬ernists reduce it to representations, to “chains of signifiers.” They, too, deny the universe depth and meaning. The good news, how¬ever, is that cutting-edge science does reveal the presence of spirit in the universe, and this is evidently what has stirred the vice presi¬dent. When Gore says that we are entering the “post-postmodernist era,” he means that we can now set about reintegrating science and religion, and so put meaning back into our lives.
This brings us to the goo-goo. Goo-goo is shorthand for “good government,” and Gore’s chief assignment in the first Clinton ad¬ministration was the task of “reinventing government,” a mission launched under the acronym REGO. Gore reportedly had asked to take charge of welfare reform, a politically more promising agenda, but the Clintons wanted that for themselves (it eventually went, by default, to Newt Gingrich), and Gore ended up with the less galva¬nizing project of making government more efficient. He set about it with due deliberation, however, and in many ways REGO has come to represent the essence of his philosophy of government.
Prosaic as it sounds, reinventing government is the crucial ele¬ment in the Clinton-Gore plan to restore the Democratic Party. Americans are cynical about government programs, they believe, because government agencies have become monsters of bureau¬cratic rigidity and inefficiency, socialist dinosaurs in an entrepre-neurial society. To the extent that the Democratic Party stands for the virtue of public works, Clinton and Gore had to show that pub¬lic works work. They had to make government, as a branch of the service economy, deliver. This was to be their answer to Republican antigovernment rhetoric, and their ticket to long-term electoral suc¬cess. (This is why one hears so much about the Family and Medical Leave Act, which Gore was closely involved with, even though the law is now more than five years old, and even though it is a “govern¬ment program” only in a metaphysical sense, since it involves no state expenditures: it is an easily understood and popular example of friendly government.)
In enacting REGO, Gore followed the policy bible of the move¬ment, David Osborne and Ted Gaebler’s Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit Is Transforming the Public Sector (1992), which has enjoyed a large influence among New Democrats, but his own thinking on the subject is, as one might expect, more philosophically expansive. It springs from the unlikely marriage of business management theory and the Federalist Papers. In Gore’s REGO, James Madison meets Peter Drucker.
The advertised purpose of REGO is to cut waste and to down¬size the workforce, and to some extent these goals are being met. The Department of Agriculture’s wool-and-mohair subsidy, for ex¬ample, has now been eliminated! (“The subsidy is no longer needed, since wool is no longer a strategic commodity,” the official report solemnly notes.) And the federal workforce has been reduced by 351,000 employees, making it the smallest since the Kennedy ad¬ministration. But Gore’s ambition is more far-reaching. It is to re¬design the government workplace. It’s all a matter of, as he likes to put it, the “information flow.”
Gore’s thinking about information derives from Toffler’s work. (He was an early enthusiast of the author of Future Shock.) But his blueprint for the new workplace is the United States Constitution. The Constitution was designed, he explained to me, to maximize in¬dividual contributions to the business of self-government while minimizing the tendencies toward a war of all against all based on selfish interests. Representative democracy achieves this goal (this is Madison’s argument in Federalist No. 10) by establishing mediat¬ing institutions, like the Congress, which allow representatives to resolve political disputes with an eye to the good of the whole while remaining responsive to local interests. “You could see our Consti¬tution as a kind of software,” he suggested (Gore, not Madison). It channels “the flow of insights from individual American citizens to¬ward a system for collecting the ones that have the most inherent value, according to a democratic vote, and then basing the decisions of the country on what results.”
Business management theory, Gore said, has finally caught up to this eighteenth-century insight (and here the slowness dial received an extra twist): “Just as our Founders labored to write a constitution that would take advantage of that insight by embedding it in an architecture that would make the most productive use of those things,” cutting-edge managers “now try to set up systems that con¬vince their employees that their insights are highly valued, en¬courage them to pay attention to what they’re doing, holistically, encourage them to see the connections between what they’re doing and the overall goals of the organization, and then they set up sys-tems for collecting those insights, editing them, discarding the ones that don’t make any sense, and implementing the ones that are good.” In REGO, this theory produced the “reinvention lab,” in which government employees are free to come up with ways to streamline their agency’s delivery of services.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *