You know, I really wish there were more people like this in American government.

I’m talking about former educator-turned-Bogotá (Colombia) Mayor Antanas Mockus, who instituted a series of amazing political and social reforms during his two mayoral terms. I encourage you to go and read the article, it’s really amazing. When we Americans hear “Colombia,” a lot of the time the first things that come to mind are drugs and corruption—and yet in this environment, this one man was able to make a great deal of difference in the way things were run. This is the sort of person Robin Williams gets typecast as in touching and inspirational based-on-real-life movies. You know, like Dead Poets Society and that one about the doctor? The man had some ideas that looked totally off the wall, like using mimes to cut down on traffic accidents—and yet, they worked amazingly well.

This puts me in mind of a common fantasy ideal about government reflected in a lot of movies in our culture. “Put a Common Man in a position of power and he’ll make all the nasty bad corruption go away,” they say. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Dave, even The Distinguished Gentleman imply that a pure heart (or at least only slightly tarnished, in the case of The Distinguished Gentleman) and good intentions can make everything okay again. They say that all the government’s problems can be sorted out with the application of a little elbow grease and a little common sense. (“If I tried to run a business like this, I’d go bankrupt,” Dave’s accountant friend says when the erstwhile actor calls him in to consult on the national budget.)

Experts will tell you that this is purest fantasy, that government is a system of compromises and it takes an experienced, professional dealmaker to negotiate the best compromises that satisfy everybody and discomfit the smallest number of people. But every so often you see people like this, who imply with their actions and the results of those actions that there might just be a better way after all.

(Found via BoingBoing.)