On Wednesday, President-elect Obama appointed Nancy Killefer to the position of “Chief Performance Officer” out of the Office of Management and Budget to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the government. Killefer was an assistant treasury secretary in the Clinton administration prior to working as a director with McKinsey and Company. The move comes following Obama’s campaign pledge to perform a line-by-line examination of the budget to eliminate wasteful spending.

Obama’s appointment is perhaps the strongest sign yet of his pragmatic approach, reshaping a government that has become obsessed with earmarks and invaded by special interests. Obama has directed his cabinet to meet with Killefer in the days following the inauguration to get tips on how to run federal agencies more efficiently and frugally.

Obama’s pragmatism dovetails with meritocratic Millennials. A couple months ago, Nathaniel Whittemore, the founding director of the Center for Global Engagement at Northwestern University and an adviser for change.org, discussed the importance of the 2008 election for the Millennials’ coming of age. He touched on pragmatism toward the end of his post.

Where it leaves us is as the inheritors of a tradition of American pragmatism, a skeptical idealism that believes deeply in our power to make the world a better place, but with the ability to learn, adapt, and if necessary, reject approaches to creating positive change that don’t deliver on their promise.

It is this pragmatism that gets us excited about new movements in the world of philanthropy and business like social enterprise and social entrepreneurship. And it is this pragmatism, I argued earlier this week, that is one of the most important (and overlooked) elements of our support for Obama’s candidacy.

It’s not just that his age is closer to ours than it is to John McCain’s, or that we’re seduced by every platitude about hope and change that come our way (shock!). It’s not even only that his programs – including a responsible end to the war in Iraq, new opportunities to serve our country and reduce the cost of education, and investments in cleaner energy that will be instrumental in improving our environment and our economy – are manifestly better for us.

In every measure, Obama is thoughtful, pragmatic, and fiercely committed. His life and politics embrace and reconcile what came before him to produce a deliberative, measured approach to governing that is not ideological, but at the same time not afraid or ashamed of big ideas and the power of belief. In this we see our aspirations for ourselves, we see our future, and we see America. And on Tuesday, we’re putting him over the top.

Whittemore hits the nail on the head when he describes our generation’s need for what he calls “skeptical idealism,” the big picture visualizing that is accompanied by the courage to make moves or reject opportunities in order to create the best possible outcome. Killefer’s appointment is an example of this “deliberative, measured approach to governing.” Obama certainly has big ideas, with one of them being the stimulus bill — the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan. But his commitment here is not to the bill itself; policy is not an extension of his ego unlike the current president. The promise to the American people is driving Obama’s desire to ensure the best possible use of government funds, including the stimulus bill.

With this pragmatism comes something else. It’s a competence that we haven’t seen in quite a long time. Consider the litany of failures Whittemore listed earlier in his post:

While we’re not yet in power, it is we who will wrestle with the long term consequences of the last few decades: fetishistic deregulation that has undercut our economic infrastructure and too often forced away the view that government has a role in preserving the public good – including the economic public good; arrogant (and poorly executed) wars that have destroyed our credibility abroad, cost billions of dollars (with billions yet to come), killed thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands more; exorbitant national debt with little to show for it; torture, surveillance, and extra-judicial rendition which flout our conscious, our Constitution, the Geneva accords, and every other recognized form of international law; and a callous disregard for our national infrastructure and public education which could threaten our productivity and place in the world for decades. Perhaps above all, we inherit an environment poisoned and gasping in the face of an unsustainable consumption.

The collapse of our effort in Iraq and the failed response to Hurricane Katrina are the two largest failures of the Bush administration, and both involved startling incompetence largely related to the sloppy decision-making process orchestrated by our MBA-holding president. We now have a former community organizer who knows how to put the right people in the right place to contribute to a deliberative decision-making process that yields the best results possible. We have someone in the presidency whose career started by simply getting things done.

Obama’s appointment of Nancy Killefer to the new role of “Chief Performance Officer” represents one more quality that attracts the admiration of so many Millennials, a generation that, as Whittemore describes, is driven “to make the world a better place.”

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