In the heat of last year’s King County executive race, somebody asked me what it was about Republican challenger David Irons that made me come down on him so hard, and I answered without hesitation, simply… that he wasn’t Ron Sims.
Sims is without a doubt my favorite politician in the state for any number of reasons, but mostly for a rare willingness to expend political capital. What some critics decry as arrogance, I applaud as leadership, even when I occasionally disagree with him on policy. Ron Sims clearly believes in what he is doing as county executive, and I believe in Ron Sims.
Ron Sims, the county executive in Washington state’s King County, believes government’s job is “to help create wealth more efficiently.” That view comes naturally to a leader of the entrepreneurial Seattle region, which has improved the nation’s experience of everything from technology to coffee.
I can’t say that Dionne is one of my favorite writers, but he’s certainly one of the most experienced and best respected political columnists in the nation. In this capacity Dionne meets an awful lot of politicians, and for a local elected to draw such glowing coverage is truly a feather in Sims’ cap… though not surprising. Most people who have the opportunity to meet with Sims come away as impressed as Dionne by his passion and dedication.
Meeting Sims and reading the Urban Institute manuscript provided a bracing reminder that there is an authentic search going on outside of conventional politics for the new ideas to animate a new political era — precisely what Democrats are supposed to be seeking.
Sims is a bluff, warm man who gets excited about problem-solving. A Democrat, he will talk your ear off about the King County government’s effort to work with local employers in creating a new heath care delivery system. The idea is that government can be a catalyst for negotiation, research and reform and save both public and private employers money while producing better health outcomes for consumers.
It fits with Sims’s larger idea that government, far from being a drain on the nation’s wealth, ought to “provide the social infrastructure and the physical infrastructure to help wealth be created.” He said during lunch here the other day that Democrats should run under the slogan: “Rebuild America.”
Sims notes that after World War II, the federal government helped unleash an era of exceptional growth through investments in schools, interstate highways and higher education. Both India and China are “making intelligent moves for economic growth” and the United States cannot stand by and watch. “You need people and brains to create an economy,” he says. “You need transportation to move an economy. And you need an environmental policy to create clean air and clean water.”
Sims’s idea reminds Democrats that a commitment to active government is not simply about redistributing wealth. It is also rooted in the historically sound insight that effective government has always been essential to robust economic growth. Government, in the Sims formulation, should be a dynamic player in our nation’s economic life.
What Dionne describes — what Ron Sims embodies — is the very essence of American liberalism… a profound belief in the power of government to improve the lives of all its citizens. It is an optimistic political philosophy grounded in the American experience
While it has become fashionable for neo-conservative cynics to simply dismissively ridicule us liberals, I find their nearly blind, deterministic faith in the power of unfettered markets to be sad, simplistic, and willfully ignorant of history. It was under the sway of liberalism that America climbed out of the Great Depression, defeated the Axis powers, and grew into the greatest economic, military and political power in the history of the world. It is under the neo-con policies of the Bush administration and our Republican congress that America risks collapsing into a debtor nation and a failed empire.
Dionne concludes that Sims’ “practical focus on government’s role in wealth creation” is both “good public policy” and “good politics.” It also happens to be backed up by history.