Day By Day

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Dubya and the Politics of Hope

David Brooks has an excellent piece in today's NYT on the changing face of philanthropy.

Earlier generations of benefactors thought that social service should be like sainthood or socialism. But this one thinks it should be like venture capital.

These thoroughly modern do-gooders dress like venture capitalists. They talk like them. They even think like them. That means that aside from the occasional passion for heirloom vegetables, they are not particularly crunchy. They don’t wear ponytails, tattoos or Birkenstocks. They don’t devote any energy to countercultural personal style, unless you consider excessive niceness a subversive fashion statement.

Next to them, Barack Obama looks like Abbie Hoffman.

It also means that they are not that interested in working for big, sluggish bureaucracies. They are not hostile to the alphabet-soup agencies that grew out of the New Deal and the Great Society; they just aren’t inspired by them.


The older do-gooders had a certain policy model: government identifies a problem. Really smart people design a program. A cabinet department in a big building administers it.

But the new do-gooders have absorbed the disappointments of the past decades. They have a much more decentralized worldview. They don’t believe government on its own can be innovative. A thousand different private groups have to try new things. Then we measure to see what works.

Their problem now is scalability. How do the social entrepreneurs replicate successful programs so that they can be big enough to make a national difference?

And here's the kicker, the new philanthropists are advancing....

new policy model, in which government sets certain accountability standards but gives networks of local organizations the freedom to choose how to meet them. President Bush’s faith-based initiative was a step in this direction, but this would be broader.

This in a nutshell explains an essential difference between Dubya's vision for America and those of his critics. He has embraced the new, decentralized, entrepreneurial model of social advance in which the government seeks accountability rather than control; they are wedded to older models based in the nineteenth century social gospel or the naive socialism of the Progressive era in which government, guided by credentialed "experts" or religious leaders, directs society toward a defined set of goals. This is why political labels like "liberal" or "conservative" cannot usefully be applied to Bush's presidency. He has looked bravely and optimistically toward the future while his critics, on both the left and the right have gazed fixedly and fondly toward the past, fearing and reviling the future. For this reason it is Bush, not Obama or Hillary!, who truly represents the politics of hope.