It’s hard not to be anguished by the news out of Washington today. Amid inflated fears that China may usurp America’s place atop the global hierarchy, Pennsylvania Avenue seems mired in dysfunction. Only a generation ago, driven by the exceptional qualities of American democracy—the seemingly miraculous capacity to balance individual freedom with collective good—the U.S. was a global paragon of hope, optimism, perseverance, and possibility. Today, with congressional approval ratings in the single digits, our democracy is more often derided as the fountainhead of our inevitable decline than celebrated as an object of global envy.
By most standards, disappointment is justified: Debates over substantive policy have become mired in partisan caricature and, in turn, Washington appears incapable of solving real problems. But the juxtaposition with China too often points to the wrong conclusion. There’s no denying that heavy-handed, autocratic regimes are more proficient at drawing up comprehensive plans—and accomplishing them with stark efficiency. Nearly all visitors to coastal China can relay a story of how the Chinese have constructed world-class buildings, bridges, and rail lines in the time it typically takes our local public works departments to fill in a pothole.
But the great blessing of our democracy has never been efficiency; rather America has risen above threats and challenges by tapping into a unique capacity to harness its exceptional diversity. We should take care not to be swept up into an autocratic envy. remember: In the aftermath of Sputnik, we looked back to the triumph of World War II and worried prospectively about Soviet aggression. As the Berlin Wall fell, we harkened back to the postwar years and trembled over Japan’s explosive growth. Today, amid China’s rise, many pine for a return to the dynamics of the 1990s.
In each case, however, America prevailed by dint of our exceptional ability to make what Tocqueville termed “repairable” mistakes. The secret to our resilience is the capacity to forge a national interest composed of clashing ideas. Throughout our history, the best solutions have emerged from the vibrant friction of different perspectives from different regions, interests, and worldviews. During this latest moment of national anguish, we ought not forget that the steel spine of our democracy forged— through our diversity—a unique combination of elements that has provided strength and flexibility. We bend, but rarely break.
That is the guiding principle of the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC). Our mission is not to persuade the nation’s leaders to leave their politics at the door, but to help them embrace the constructive collision of ideas. By marshaling expertise and inspiration from former members of Congress, policy experts, and stakeholders, BPC is working today to demonstrate that it takes the best ideas of both parties to create effective and resilient public policy.
At a moment when many want Washington to abandon what has propelled the U.S. forward, we prescribe a return to first principles. Governing was never supposed to be easy. BPC exists to provide ideas and advocacy to re-harness the power of democracy. There is much work to do.
We hope you’ll join us.