Make Government Work Again

Founding Partner Michael Kristoff offers his take on presidential administrations past and present.

Chanikarn Thongsupa

LBJ Library

Brendan Smialowski, Agence France-Presse

The Blog
The Blog

Make Government Work Again

By Michael Kristoff

At the close of every presidency, it’s easy to Monday morning quarterback the administration’s successes and failures, and of course one hopes to be doing it after a proverbial win rather than a loss. But at a time in our country when a deadly virus is attacking our citizens to the tune of 400,000+ dead, when hostile foreign adversaries are attacking our cyber networks, and when domestic leaders have attacked our democratic institutions in ways previously thought unimaginable, not to mention the provocation of an insurrection on the US Capitol, it’s hard to assign the previous administration with anything but an L—regrettably.

In many respects, President Trump was the great draft pick that never was.

He entered the 2016 presidential race as the underdog, and beat out the establishment for his rightful place atop the Republican ticket. He came to the American people with an epic sales pitch (even by his standards) and it was good: He was going to Make America Great Again. Wow, dope. Okay, cool. So what’s that look like?

On paper it looked like gold. But in practice, it turned out to be more of a Rorschach test featuring an endless barrage of one hundred and forty-two characters. He was the QB running one play, while his receivers were running a different play, all while the line was blocking for yet a third play. The defense, as it were, almost had a harder time covering this… Some blitzed, others played man, and some just threw up their arms and played zone (There’s a football theme here). But while this may have given off the patina of progress, little advancement in fact was substantively made. Moreover, this created new and alarming vulnerabilities, many of which have been thoroughly exploited, both abroad and now domestically.

All because nothing in government seemed to function properly.

To search for the why in this might be an exhaustive expedition but can perhaps be explained by the draft-pick-gone-bust theory that applies to so many college greats—not to mention some greats in the business world too. You know those highly touted CEOs who are going to come in and change the company around and make it great and profitable again and everyone’s getting a raise…woohoo! Except what ends up happening is they start hemorrhaging profits, so they let people go, and then they’re understaffed, thereby less efficient, or even capable, and what happens? The company goes bankrupt, like a defunct hotel or casino, say, all because at the end of the day, the leader and the job just weren’t a good fit. The skills of the leader didn’t align with the skills necessary for the job, or the system required to play in.

Simply put, who Donald Trump is as a person and businessman just didn’t align with what the job of being the United States President actually entails.

That’s why we need to Make Government Work Again.

Admittedly, MGWA (pronounced mig-wah?) certainly doesn’t have the same percussive, euphoric rush as does shouting MAGA (pronounced mag-uh) but marketing schemes notwithstanding, I think there’s some hope on the horizon.

Joe Biden and his administration are perhaps the most suited for this very task than I’ve ever seen in my entire lifetime—and while I may only be 35 years-old, that technically means I could still be president myself.

Over the last four decades, perhaps the best person previously suited for the job of president, the one who actually understood all the levers of government and how to work them was George H.W. Bush. “41” had been a lifelong public servant, rising to the highest ranks in Washington – Congressman, Ambassador to the UN, CIA director, Vice President—all before swearing his presidential oath on January 20, 1989. When he raised his right hand, he was ready. He knew the job and knew how to do it. This is precisely what gives me so much confidence, and perhaps relief, after the inauguration of Joe Biden as number “46.” It’s less a Republican or Democrat thing, and more a functionality thing.

Nearly five decades in Washington has taught Joe how government is supposed to function…for the people. His proposed policies aside (many of which I like, some of which I don’t), what makes me most hopeful about the incoming administration is my firm belief that they’re going to get our team—the medusa that is the US Government—all back running the same play again, so that the very functionality of government, what we need government to do for us and what we need to do for government, may be rightfully, and critically, restored.

Because let’s face it. We need to get back to good-natured debate with our relatives over thanksgiving dinners where the communal punch bowl flows like water, after which we come to the realization that our friendly, if not bourbon-fueled lively discourse, is actually the very thing we’ve been missing the most.