Local Government Innovation & Redesign

To support local government redesign efforts and recognize the innovative work already underway, the Public and Nonprofit Leadership Center has partnered with state associations to create the Local Government Innovation & Redesign Guide and host a yearly Local Government Innovations Awards ceremony.

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Balancing despair and hope in the wake of the Arizona shooting

Like most people, I reacted in horror this past weekend when I heard of the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Giffords and the killing of several other public servants and ordinary citizens at an Arizona shopping center. In many ways this attack is reminiscent of previous U.S. political assassinations - a mad, disgruntled gunman tragically acts out his political convictions.

We are always horrified at senseless killings, yet a political assassination shakes us in ways that violent attacks against employers or innocent bystanders does not. Political assassination, especially if it can be tied to current conflicts among the citizenry, makes us fear for the future of our society and our system of government. (Such fears are more commonplace in countries that are far less stable than our own - I think of the recent killing of a courageous governor in Pakistan.)

The attack on Congresswoman Giffords has tapped a growing concern among many US citizens that our political environment has become dangerously vitriolic, that the rhetoric of partisan debate has escalated to the brink of hate speech. In the last few days the Internet and traditional media have been full of debate about whether this attack can logically be linked to the hyper-partisanship that characterized the fall elections.

As many commentators have noted, raw and hostile political debate, in which opponents are vilified, has considerable precedent in this country. What makes the current political environment different or distinctive? In many ways, the new millennium, which began with such hopefulness, has become an era of discontent for US people. We've had the shock of the 9/11 attacks, the drain of protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the great recession. No wonder that some of us speak angrily about what our political leaders are or are not doing.
Recent data from the Pew Research Centre reveals that the US is not the land of optimism that it once was. Less than a third of us think that our country is going in the right direction, whereas 87% of Chinese people and 50% of Brazilians think their countries are doing so. (See "The redistribution of hope" in the Dec. 18 edition of The Economist.)

Of course, there are plenty of reasons for hope and optimism for the US. In the wake of the Arizona shootings. Old and new media alike have been inundated with calls for and commitments to more civil political discourse, social media networks have been activated in support of the victims, and people have called for reconsideration of government policies on semi-automatic weapons. The can-do, community-building streak is a deeply engrained part of the U.S. psyche. Now it is strengthened by web-enabled social media. I hope more of us can draw on our can-do streak to foster honest but civil debate and build public policies and governing process that give us cause for further optimism.

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