This is the second year I’ve enjoyed the privilege of attending the Milken Institute Global Conference, and I’m left with the same feeling I came away with last year. We may have tough challenges as a country and as a planet, but we also have the capacity and commitment to meet these challenges if we get serious about doing so. Just as last year, I’m extremely impressed by the intellect, passion, and commitment of the people who attend this conference – more than 3,000 people from 52 countries sharing their ideas with conviction and exploring areas where we can all agree. It’s a stark contrast to what we see in the news media – a country deeply divided, as personified by Rachel Maddow and Rush Limbaugh. The people at this conference aren’t here to boost their ratings; they are serious people addressing serious challenges and exploring jaw-dropping new frontiers.
While the conference shines an even brighter light on some tough issues, it’s hard to leave here without a deep sense of optimism and purpose. It makes one ask, “What can I do?”
Yesterday’s lunch panel, What Happened to the American Dream?, was skillfully moderated by former Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. Panelists included Harvard University Professor and Hoover Institution Senior Fellow, Niall Ferguson; Investor and Philanthropist, Jeff Greene; American Enterprise Institute Scholar and Author, Charles Murray; and Lead Auto Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Rattner. It was among the liveliest of conversations with very different viewpoints about the state of the American Dream today and the prospects for its future. In the end, however, I was struck more by the areas of agreement on the current state of the country; the fact that there is a role for government to invest in our future; that we don’t want to become a welfare state, but the need for a safety net ultimately serves everyone; and, that if we come together soon and get serious, we can set a course that doesn’t have to accept a future that provides fewer opportunities for the next generation than their parents had.
Moderates are being pushed out of electoral politics, objective journalism is being cast aside by the ideologues, and the environment for effective compromise has been all but destroyed. Several speakers at this conference quoted Martin Luther King who once said, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” If we would only act like it, there isn’t anything we can’t accomplish. Rush? Rachel? How about it?