During much of this last century, most of what citizens knew of the rest of the world came through war or the Olympics. Between conflicts we lost interest, and let the federal government worry about it. Thomas Jefferson, in fact, envisioned a small and limited national government, which he called the "foreign department."
Newsreels, radio and then television brought war home. Vietnam became very real to non-soldiers. Americans watched Desert Storm on CNN, and so did Saddam Hussein.
Today, however, while our military deployments belie the claims that "we are not the world's policeman," we have become increasingly engaged -- as citizens, as state and local governments -- in the everyday affairs of the world community over the Internet. Even local governments -- the heart of Jefferson's America -- find decisions in Brussels or Ottawa or Washington affecting revenues and the ability to govern. Many international initiatives now have immediate repercussions on U.S. cities, counties and states, fostered by the Internet and electronic commerce. Taxation, economic development, privacy, censorship, free speech and more, are not peripheral issues, but concern the very heart of who we are as a nation. For these reasons, we have "gone global" in this, our international issue.
This past year, I had the good fortune to be selected as a juror in the Global Bangemann Challenge, evaluating IT projects from cities and regions around the world. I traveled to Europe three times, and chaired a workgroup of jurors from South Africa, Ghana, the Netherlands, Russia and Austria. For me, international concerns now have faces and names.
Competing in the Challenge were hundreds of deserving projects run by people in state and local governments around the globe. These projects use good ideas and IT to improve regions, build more responsive and fair-minded governments and improve the lives of ordinary people. Two of my favorite projects are included in this issue: "Go Sweden," on page 44, and "HarlemLive," on page 46. More information is available at
So what will this shift from local to international scope require of government leaders? David Gergen -- who served four of the last six U.S. presidents -- said, during his recent keynote at the International City/
County Management Association conference in Portland, Ore., that we have the potential to achieve a Golden Age to rival ancient Egypt, Greece or Rome. We have fantastic new information technologies, the fall of the Iron Curtain, a thriving economy, and biological advances that can cure disease and feed the hungry. Our ability to achieve that Golden Age, he said, "will heavily depend upon the quality of our public leadership here at home."
Gergen cautions, however, that the 20th century began with an equal sense of optimism. People looked ahead and saw an industrial world bringing forth an abundance of goods and services. But instead -- because of dictators like Hitler, Stalin, and Mao -- "it turned out to be the bloodiest century in history ... Had it not been for other leaders like Churchill, de Gaulle and Roosevelt, we would not be living in freedom today. And, even then, we succeeded by the skin of our teeth."
Gergen worked for both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, two men he described as brilliant capable politicians. But Nixon had a dark side, and Clinton could not control his "roaming." Personal mastery, said Gergen, is an essential quality of leadership. George Washington had it. Throughout his life he controlled his "volcanic temper." Lincoln had it, in mastering fits of depression he called "the black dog."
The other quality, said Gergen, is the courage to do what's right. Gerald Ford had it, said Gergen, when he pardoned Richard Nixon. But perhaps because of it, Ford lost the next election. Harry Truman had it when he integrated the armed forces against the counsel of his advisers. They said doing so would cost him the election. Instead, he won the biggest upset in history. *
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