A New Glass Ceiling

Ideological disagreements in Washington are blocking creative solutions to many of the country’s problems.

PHOENIX, AZ - OCTOBER 20: Volunteers working during The Home Depot Foundation & The Mission Continues Partner To Renovate Phoenix facility of U.S.VETS on October 20, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. 
WireImage
Ronald Brownstein
May 9, 2014, 1 a.m.

Po­lar­iz­a­tion and para­lys­is in Wash­ing­ton are trans­form­ing the no­tion of the glass ceil­ing.

Tra­di­tion­ally, the glass ceil­ing has re­ferred to the in­vis­ible bar­ri­ers that al­low wo­men and minor­it­ies to rise to a cer­tain level in ma­jor in­sti­tu­tions, but no fur­ther.

The new glass ceil­ing blocks the rise of in­nov­at­ive grass­roots solu­tions to the coun­try’s biggest chal­lenges, such as edu­ca­tion or in­equal­ity. Cre­at­ive think­ing is flour­ish­ing in loc­al gov­ern­ments, com­munity non­profit or­gan­iz­a­tions, and pub­lic-private part­ner­ships. But al­most none of these new ap­proaches are pen­et­rat­ing the frozen de­bate between the parties in Wash­ing­ton. The new think­ing stalls against the cal­ci­fied ideo­lo­gic­al dis­agree­ments that form the cap­it­al’s glass ceil­ing.

As the latest All­state/Na­tion­al Journ­al Heart­land Mon­it­or Poll re­leased Fri­day showed, few Amer­ic­ans are look­ing to the pin­nacle of either gov­ern­ment or busi­ness for solu­tions. When asked wheth­er an ar­ray of large in­sti­tu­tions are mostly help­ing or mostly hurt­ing the coun­try as it tries to ad­dress its ma­jor chal­lenges, more people said that large cor­por­a­tions, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, polit­ic­al parties, and cor­por­ate CEOs were hurt­ing rather than help­ing.

This col­lapse of con­fid­ence in so­ci­ety’s lead­er­ship class has con­trib­uted to the volat­il­ity that has pre­ven­ted either party from es­tab­lish­ing a dur­able elect­or­al ad­vant­age since the 1990s. But the dis­il­lu­sion­ment with those at the top is also fuel­ing a more pos­it­ive dy­nam­ic: It is en­cour­aging more in­di­vidu­als and in­sti­tu­tions to con­front at a loc­al level prob­lems that earli­er gen­er­a­tions might have waited for na­tion­al lead­er­ship to tackle.

That tend­ency is mani­fest in the in­creas­ingly ag­gress­ive — and di­ver­gent — state agen­das of Re­pub­lic­an and Demo­crat­ic gov­ernors. This trend has some un­deni­able costs. State cap­it­als that once op­er­ated with great­er con­sensus have grown more po­lar­ized. And states are sep­ar­at­ing on is­sues, such as gay mar­riage and im­mig­ra­tion, to an ex­tent that threatens equal pro­tec­tion un­der the law. But in oth­er ways, this state di­ver­gence is fuel­ing a peri­od of pro­duct­ive ex­per­i­ment­a­tion. Blue states like Cali­for­nia and Mary­land, and red ones like Texas and Ok­lahoma, are pro­du­cing very dif­fer­ent mod­els for a good life.

Mu­ni­cip­al in­nov­a­tion is thriv­ing, too. This leans more uni­formly left, as cit­ies be­come more re­li­ably Demo­crat­ic, largely be­cause the coun­try’s in­creas­ing di­versity is clustered in urb­an cen­ters. As journ­al­ist Har­old Mey­er­son noted in a widely dis­cussed Amer­ic­an Pro­spect art­icle re­cently , may­ors in cit­ies as dif­fer­ent as New York, Seattle, Pitt­s­burgh, Bo­ston, and Phoenix are all pur­su­ing agen­das that in­clude such ideas as ex­pand­ing ac­cess to preschool and in­creas­ing the min­im­um wage.

This re­viv­al of urb­an lib­er­al­ism has its lim­its: As vet­er­an journ­al­ist Tom Ed­sall noted in a re­sponse to Mey­er­son’s piece, may­ors presid­ing over less de­sir­able real es­tate than New York or Seattle are un­likely to press as ag­gress­ively to im­pose ob­lig­a­tions on loc­al em­ploy­ers who can re­lo­cate down the road. But there’s no ques­tion that many big cit­ies are pres­sure-test­ing the agenda that will in­creas­ingly define the Demo­crat­ic Party through Pres­id­ent Obama’s re­main­ing years and bey­ond. “What’s hap­pen­ing in cit­ies,” Mey­er­son wrote, “can be de­scribed as Obama’s agenda trick­ling down to the jur­is­dic­tions where it has enough polit­ic­al sup­port to be en­acted.”

The most en­cour­aging ex­ample of new forces filling the va­cu­um cre­ated by Wash­ing­ton’s im­mob­il­iz­a­tion is neither left nor right. It’s found in the pro­lif­er­a­tion of non­profit or­gan­iz­a­tions and pub­lic-private part­ner­ships sprout­ing in com­munit­ies across the coun­try.

So­cial en­tre­pren­eurs blend­ing busi­ness savvy with pub­lic mis­sion are craft­ing new means to meet old goals. These in­nov­at­ors range from the Mis­sion Con­tin­ues (which helps vet­er­ans reenter so­ci­ety through ser­vice), to the Mis­sion As­set Fund’s “lend­ing circles,” which are help­ing im­mig­rants as­sim­il­ate in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area, to the hy­brid high school/com­munity col­lege/vo­ca­tion­al train­ing that is boost­ing a mostly minor­ity stu­dent body at San Ant­o­nio’s Alamo Academies. (You can find more of these in­nov­a­tions on Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s on­line Solu­tions Bank.)

These ef­forts are ex­pand­ing partly be­cause ad­vances in in­form­a­tion tech­no­logy are mak­ing it easi­er for so­cial en­tre­pren­eurs to raise money, or­gan­ize sup­port­ers, and de­liv­er ser­vices. But this golden age of grass­roots dir­ect ac­tion also draws on the spread­ing sense that com­munit­ies can’t wait for dis­tant lead­ers to solve prob­lems. In the new Heart­land Mon­it­or Poll, a ma­jor­ity iden­ti­fied only two in­sti­tu­tions as do­ing more to help than hurt on the coun­try’s biggest prob­lems, and each was loc­ally rooted: com­munity groups and small busi­ness.

In the same poll, most Amer­ic­ans were quick to con­clude that loc­al solu­tions and dir­ect ac­tion through vol­un­tar­ism, while valu­able, were not enough. Ul­ti­mately, most re­spond­ents said, the coun­try can’t solve its prob­lems without na­tion­al-scale solu­tions.

That’s the right judg­ment. But the path through that conun­drum could be for Wash­ing­ton to play the role of cata­lyst: Through match­ing grants or more res­ults-based com­pet­i­tions for fed­er­al dol­lars, such as Pres­id­ent Obama’s Race to the Top, it could pro­mote wider ad­op­tion of fresh ap­proaches now demon­strat­ing prom­ise in a few com­munit­ies. The en­ergy crack­ling in loc­al in­nov­a­tion shows that a flow of tal­ent and new ideas is ready when Wash­ing­ton fi­nally lifts the glass ceil­ing.

What We're Following See More »
A DARK CLOUD OVER TRUMP?
Snowstorm Could Impact Primary Turnout
2 days ago
THE LATEST

A snowstorm is supposed to hit New Hampshire today and “linger into Primary Tuesday.” GOP consultant Ron Kaufman said lower turnout should help candidates who have spent a lot of time in the state tending to retail politicking. Donald Trump “has acknowledged that he needs to step up his ground-game, and a heavy snowfall could depress his figures relative to more organized candidates.”

Source:
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
A Shake-Up in the Offing in the Clinton Camp?
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

Anticipating a primary loss in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Hillary and Bill Clinton “are considering staffing and strategy changes” to their campaign. Sources tell Politico that the Clintons are likely to layer over top officials with experienced talent, rather than fire their staff en masse.

Source:
THE LAST ROUND OF NEW HAMPSHIRE POLLS
Trump Is Still Ahead, but Who’s in Second?
2 days ago
THE LATEST

We may not be talking about New Hampshire primary polls for another three-and-a-half years, so here goes:

  • American Research Group’s tracking poll has Donald Trump in the lead with 30% support, followed by Marco Rubio and John Kasich tying for second place at 16%. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton 53%-41%.
  • The 7 News/UMass Lowell tracking poll has Trump way out front with 34%, followed by Rubio and Ted Cruz with 13% apiece. Among the Democrats, Sanders is in front 56%-40%.
  • A Gravis poll puts Trump ahead with 28%, followed by Kasich with 17% and Rubio with 15%.
IT’S ALL ABOUT SECOND PLACE
CNN Calls the Primary for Sanders and Trump
1 days ago
THE LATEST

Well that didn’t take long. CNN has already declared Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump the winners of the New Hampshire primary, leaving the rest of the candidates to fight for the scraps. Five minutes later, the Associated Press echoed CNN’s call.

Source:
×