Addicted to the safety of incrementalism
A democratic republic doesn’t function without a virtual unanimous consensus for political incrementalism. Our nation certainly would not exist without our founders’ fanatical embrace of the concept. And yet, in a most narrow way, after four years as a state legislator in a small pond, I can’t help but find myself reflecting broadly upon the inestimable bliss of incrementalism that such a political agreement demands.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating a political retreat away from Rene Descartes’ old fashioned rationalism itself, and I’m certainly not proposing a lurching toward the extremes, but I am merely suggesting that perhaps, in a small and insignificant way, we as a state and as a larger society might have become so blindly attached to the idea of incrementalism that we rarely even consider the implications.
And I am convinced that there are, indeed, implications.
Every aspect of state government is by its very nature designed to ensure that big, bold, almost revolutionary ideas (in the positive sense that any state-level decisions are revolutionary) are clipped, defeated or at least reduced so dramatically that any meaningful threat of systems change is eliminated.
As a nation it almost goes without saying that incrementalism is healthy, safe and structured for our way of life. Fortunately, Congress or our state legislature couldn’t get swept away by a radical fad, pass sweeping legislation that radically alters our nation’s way of functioning if it tried.
Examples abound throughout the world and certainly history when the absence of incrementalism caused terror and abject failure. I wouldn’t want to experience life in that environment. At another level, positive examples, however, where incrementalism relative to the challenges of the day were not considered the only strategy do exist. One might site the economic, social, political and cultural reforms and adaptions of South Korea or Israel from their post-war to present environments.
Here at home, at the state level where it’s safe, I find myself wondering whether we haven’t taken our incrementalist-driven philosophical infrastruture to such an unparalleled degree that we have forgotten how to even think big.
One of my favorite quotes remains Thomas Jefferson’s: “What country ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?”
In Seattle we celebrate with tongue-in-cheek humor the “Seattle Process” that commands a belief that everyone should have their voice heard. It works relatively well and ensures in most cases that our state’s quality of life is protected from aggressive, radical proposals that we would come to regret in years to come.
But after four years I’m more convinced than ever that in our state’s political safety net that is particularly attracted to incrementalism we have lost a certain passion for a good, old fashioned state-level revolution.
Most of the candidates for statewide office this year have chosen to systematically retreat into a ‘small ball’ game where they emphasize the tactics of small policy issues. Who is tougher on taxes, tougher on the bureaucracy, a better small ball player? What about big ideas, big dreams, big visions with big plans for action? That does not, of course, mean big government it means big thinking.
In so many areas we are slipping as a state in terms of the quality of our education, health care, transportation, environment and more. It’s time to embrace a bolder approach.
Washington should be in the top five in the nation in the quality of our education system, public infrastructure, business environment, innovation support, environmental health and quality of life. We should demand that campaigns reach toward bold goals with real plans that the public can understand, respect and embrace. A real campaign of ideas would be about how to reach those stars.
Achieving that level of innovation is a long haul when you’re addicted to the safety of incrementalism.
We are so much more than what we’ve become.
Your partner in service,