Founder and CEO, Run for America
Burstein: If I told you all right now that I was going to tell you in the next three minutes how to fix American politics, you would probably all look at me like I was totally crazy.
And in fact, that was the reaction that I got when we started Run for America from many, many people. And to figure this question out we really went back to the beginning of American democracy and looked at the founding fathers, who were really the political innovators and entrepreneurs of their day, who scoured the country to find the best and brightest political minds to say if we’re going to create a new country we need to have the best and brightest people at the table.
When you think about it, every single industry in our world looks really aggressively at this question of talent. Many of you run businesses, run organizations and the one thing that we always know is that without good people we can’t possibly hope to be successful or to do good things. So we have systems for training, recruiting, identifying, retaining great talent everywhere else except for in American politics, where arguably it’s the one place where it is the most important. So for comparison sake, if you want to play in the NBA, there are 450 spots for the NBA. The process for getting into the NBA compared with the process for getting one of the 435 seats in the United States Congress couldn’t be more night and day, as it couldn’t be for any senior level employee in a major company or startup.
When we look at the challenges that we’re facing, we have, probably on every single chart, whether it’s the environment, economic inequality, or whether it’s our national debt, you look at the chart and it’s literally going off the charts in levels it’s never been. Yet, at the same time we have lost our A team. Run for America is focused on this question, and in 2016 we’ll run a group of 12 people for Congress, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, people who come from backgrounds as entrepreneurs, innovators, social entrepreneurs, outside the box thinkers, and leaders who actually have the skillset and talent to lead in the 21st century. Because the other thing that we realized is that, in the 21st century, it would behoove us to actually have leaders who’ve lived a good portion of their lives in the 21st century. The average age in the United States Congress, on the House side, is 57. The average age in the Senate is 62. So if we ever want to create the kind of ideas and move the kind of things we’re talking about at this conference forward, if we ever want to have advocates for technology and for a meaningful future, if we ever want to solve our biggest challenges, we first have to bring these people into the process who are actually living in the world that we are all talking about today.
It’s easy to look at American politics and say, this is frustrating, this is endlessly hopeless, how could we possibly get through this? And that’s what’s happening. The best and brightest among us are saying, in a world where there are so many other opportunities to make impact, and there’s so much else to do, we’re opting out. But the only way that this bad system, or troubled system, gets better is if good people go into it to help. We need each one of you here to think about this question, and while we’re endlessly frustrated, it doesn’t get better without each and every one of you.
So if you’re interested in thinking about how we build a 21st century government, how we actually move into the future, I’d love to talk to you more about what we’re doing, because if we don’t invest in people we can’t possibly solve our biggest problems.