EXPERTS DAVID D. BURSTEIN (BA ’12) AND KELI GOFF (BA ’01) WEIGH IN ON THE SURPRISES OF THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, WHAT IT WOULD MEAN TO GET THE MONEY OUT OF THE AMERICAN POLITICAL SYSTEM, AND HOW TO RECRUIT CANDIDATES WHO CAN INSPIRE CHANGE. HERE’S AN EXCERPT OF THEIR JULY 2016 CONVERSATION FROM THE FALL 2016 GALLATIN TODAY:
Goff: We need to get beyond the labels and see what people are committing to do in terms of public service. Party labels don’t tell you what kind of person someone is in terms of their character. We need to start talking more about who the candidates are as people.
Burstein: This is the business that I’m in. How do you identify and cultivate talent? One of the things that our founding fathers didn’t anticipate—
Goff: That I could vote one day?
Burstein: That’s one. Well, I think some of them did anticipate that. There was a revolutionary mind-set and there was this idea of creating a country in which, if people saw things that were going wrong, they would be able to do something about it relatively quickly. We’ve been stuck, basically in the past thirty plus years, with people feeling like we’re at this paralytic point. What can actually shift any of these paradigms? New leaders need to arise and stand up and say that fixing these problems is more important than their own reelection.
Goff: More good people have to run and we, collectively, as a society, have to make it easier for good people to run. There are so many obstacles to decent people getting involved in the political process, which is how we end up with a de facto monarchy of Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton. It’s really expensive to run for office.
Burstein: And getting more expensive every year.
Goff: Right. You have to have money going into the process or have a serious Rolodex. This is why a lot of women who run for office are like Hillary Clinton—they’re either married to someone who was in office, or their father, brother, or uncle held office. So if you’re a woman of color, you’re already starting at a huge deficit because your grandfather probably wasn’t, say, the governor of Mississippi. If we want things to fundamentally change, we have to change the people at the table making the decisions. We have to convince good people to run and create a pipeline to do it. Both parties spend money on negative attack ads. They could easily earmark $10 million—which they wouldn’t notice!—to support a pipeline program for low-income people we think have the potential to become rising stars in their party.
Burstein: In the corporate world, they spend $75 billion annually on talent recruitment and retention. In politics, we spend zero. It’s not that hard to find good people who would like to run, you just have to go out and ask them. The government is the largest organization in the country, so how does it not have the basic systems that every other institution has to ensure that it has the right people to get the job done? Not only do we have to find and recruit people, but we need to ask them when they want to leave. If someone is coming in to accomplish a goal, once that goal is done, they need to think about cultivating someone to succeed them. And deciding not to keep a seat for 45 years and suffocating a whole generation of leadership.
Goff: I totally agree with you.
Burstein: This is the second time in history when we will go back a generation in terms of who we elect as president. We are about to elect one of the oldest presidents ever at a time when it’s never been more clear that we’re entering a world and an economy that is not grounded in the post–World War II environment, which is where the consciousness and the debate is.
Goff: If there’s one thing I could change about our system to make it healthier, it would be term limits. It’s a way to change things and shake things up and we’d have new, fresh blood coming into government. To your larger point about getting it right in terms of recruitment, it’s the same thing when we see lack of diversity—say, in the tech world—there has to be a willingness to go beyond the comfort zone in people’s networks.
David D. Burstein (BA ’12) is the CEO and Founder of Run for America, a disruptive post-partisan initiative to break up political polarization by bringing a new generation of talent into American politics. He is the author of Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaping Our World (Beacon Press, 2013).
Keli Goff (BA ’01) is the author of two books, a columnist for The Daily Beast, and the host of “Political Party with Keli Goff,” a series featuring interviews with politicians, media personalities, and artists about the issues shaping the 2016 presidential election for NPR–affiliate WNYC.