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Don’t dismiss Dems’ proposals outright

In the national political arena, an ongoing game involves a charge from Republicans that the Democratic Party is bereft of any ideas of its own. This tactic takes advantage of how many Americans view the Dems — adrift — when compared to the perception of focus and discipline in the Bush Administration.

It remains to be seen, of course, what the recent breakdowns of this near-mythic focus and discipline in the White House will mean politically for either side.

Nonetheless, the image of a Democratic Party and leadership without a resonant agenda is commonly held, particularly in the Magnolia State.

An intriguing question among many in the blogosphere and beyond has been what could happen if the Dems were able to craft an agenda that connected with voters and presented it — over and over again — with a powerful, unified voice.
Just in time for the 2006 campaign season, I might add.

What if?

Pushing a high-tech future

Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington last week, the Democratic leader of the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, attempted to do something like that.

Pelosi, a Californian who has served in the House since 1987 and was elected leader in 2002, detailed a program dubbed the “Innovation Agenda,” which is supposed to be a “Commitment to Competitiveness to Keep America Number One.”

In her speech, Pelosi was quick to state the challenge: “…the world has changed dramatically — in ways that pose unprecedented challenges to our economic well-being. The underdeveloped countries of yesterday can become the formidable competitors of tomorrow or even today. Those countries are following what has been the United States’ blueprint for decades, and which resulted in our pre-eminence.”

And as anyone paying attention to the process of globalization knows, the challenges posed by this economic phenomenon are as daunting as the opportunities are boundless. In exploring these challenges, Pelosi and her Democratic colleagues turned to Silicon Valley and other hotbeds of high-tech development. They held a series of meetings with the innovators, entrepreneurs and corporate leaders who are leading the U.S. into the New Economy.

After listening, the Dems came up with the Innovation Agenda. Responding to Pelosi’s speech, a number of Republicans characterized the proposals as nothing new.

Internetnews.com reported U.S. Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, chair of the Senate’s Subcommittee on Technology, Innovation and Competitiveness, as saying, “We are already pursuing what the Democrats are proposing…”

Of course, the tech sector responded favorably. In a statement released with a copy of Pelosi’s speech, Cisco’s president and CEO John Chambers said, “This agenda thoughtfully addresses how government can best play a role in improving our economic competitiveness by focusing on innovation. I look forward to working with both sides of the aisle to implement these laudable goals.”

Chambers, as you may recall, was in Mississippi recently to announce Cisco’s Century Schools Education Initiative, which will help children develop critical skill sets for the new global marketplace. During the Mississippi Economic Council’s Hobnob Mississippi event October 25, Chambers unveiled the company’s plans to donate $20 million to seven school districts in the state ravaged by the August 29th storm. The money will be used for computers, wireless communication capabilities and training for teachers.

Building a bright economic future with a solid foundation of education is part of the Innovation Agenda, as well.

Making her points

Pelosi outlined five key points to the Dems’ plan. The first one is critical to all of the rest: education.

“…we recognize that in a globalized, knowledge-based economy, America’s greatest resource for innovation and economic growth resides within America’s classrooms,” she said. “To create a new generation of innovators, our agenda calls for a qualified teacher in every math and science K-12 classroom and we issue a call to action to engineers and scientists to join the ranks of America’s teachers.”

Both of those goals are admirable, but it remains to be seen whether or not we’ll ever take math and science education seriously in this country. Hopefully, we will.

Other goals of the agenda are:

• a sustained commitment to research and development.

• affordable broadband access for every American within five years.

• energy independence in 10 years.

• a competitive small business environment for innovation.

Certainly, implementing the policies and processes to achieve any of these goals — none of which should be seen as partisan property — will take time, public and private investment, cooperation and tremendous effort. And it will involve hard work at the local, state and national levels, too.

Close to home, organizations like the Mississippi Technology Alliance are already playing a critical role in the advancement of high-tech economic development.

Considering the message

Dismissing the Innovation Agenda as politics as usual would be easy, but doing so outright would be short sighted. The issues and ideas that it addresses are too important for either side of the political spectrum to claim exclusively.

So, deride the messenger if that’s part of your political makeup, but let’s pay attention to this message. And instead of worrying too much about the partisanship, entertain the possibilities of “What if…”

Contact MBJ editor Jim Laird at jlaird@msbusiness.com.

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