Wednesday, February 7, 2007
Is A Wonk-Free Politics Possible?
The other day, in my reaction to John Edwards' healthcare proposal, I explained why I have a hard time getting excited about detailed policy proposals. Only to find quite a bit of discussion on a handful of other blogs I follow about whether detailed policy proposals help or hinder a Presidential candidate.
Now my argument runs somewhat parallel to these other discussions, which were tactical in nature, but never questioned the usefulness of wonkish policy proposals at some stage of the political process. What I'm proposing is an entirely wonk-free politics.
The reasoning being, no matter how well thought-out a policy proposal is, there's always going to be:
- Alternative approaches to parsing the numbers that will contest the predicted results;
- Some legislative compromise that will dilute the intended effect;
- Variations in regulatory oversight that will impact the enforcement;
- Unintended and unforeseen consequences, both beneficial and not;
- And adaptations to the legislation that will dampen or exagerrate the policy's effectiveness.
I said in that first post that government is better suited to setting broad national priorities than it is to micro-regulating policy. Especially in an age when only a small minority of our elected officials even read, much less understand the implications of, the laws they're passing. To say nothing of the electorate.
So what would a wonk-free politics look like? Two things spring to mind, right off the bat. It would emphasize the goals that we, as a nation, want to achieve, while maintaining flexibility with regard to the means we use to achieve them. And it would place a premium on government's responsiveness, in order to capitalize on successes and remedy failures.
I admit, it sounds utopian, and maybe it is. But I can't help but think that there's a problem with the way we conduct the business of government when so many people, perfectly capable of understanding policy discussions, don't even bother to pay attention. Why? Because they know that nine times out of ten, the fine print of a piece of legislation is either unfathomable, unverifiable, or undisclosed.
So, am I just hopelessly naive, or out of touch? Could be, but if so, I'm not the only one:
It is time for us to free ourselves from the constraints of politics. It's time for us to stop settling for the world as it is and start reimagining the world as it might be... That's what we offer the American people: hope. There are those who don't believe in talking about hope. They say, "Well, we want specifics; we want details; and we want white papers; we want plans." We've had a lot of plans, Democrats. What we've had is a shortage of hope. And over the next year, over the next two years, that will be my call to you.
That's Barack Obama at last week's DNC Winter Meeting.