The Trouble With Public Policy

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Modern
American politics is presented currently as Red States vs. Blue
States. Historians might record that it has it origins in television
news coverage of presidential elections, but perhaps a simpler explanation
exists and it was from the roots of Rock 'em-Sock 'em Robots that
this bind weed sprouted. Regardless, conservative or liberal labels
mean little and the parties that lay claim to one or the other of
the ideologies do not in reality adhere to either of them. It has
boiled down to Red or Blue as identifiers for people holding certain
political or even social viewpoints. Of course what is of concern
to observers is not that there are two or more sides that disagree
about fundamental issues. What is of concern is the intensity of
animosity between them. If such intense hostility really exists
and is not merely an insignificant phenomenon journalists use to
gain viewers, then the United States of America is on the cusp of
internal cataclysm.

ABC recently
aired a very special 20/20 (not to be confused by a very
special Growing Pains) hosted by George Stephanopoulos that
examined the "State of the Union," wherein they concluded
that the United States is so deeply divided because of extremist
elements on both sides that prescribe to views and commit acts that
split an otherwise united citizenry. People migrate to communities
that share their values, they consume "shout T.V." and
talk radio, follow polarizing church leaders and community activists
who make their living by fueling provocative debate, all of which
create deeper divisions and more intense feelings.

Many pundits
will suggest that in order to heal this rent nation, compromise
must be reached. The two sides must learn to stop talking past each
other and open a true dialogue so that public policy can begin to
mend the rift. Government can provide the answer. Yes, politics
is the means by which Americans select their government, but if
political debate were less emotional, then citizens would be able
to make informed decisions based on issues, and once votes are cast
based on issues not on mere rhetoric, then good public policy will
be enacted to unify the nation. It is possible for the government
to step in with the correct combination of policies to make everyone
happy and the citizenry could live in peace and harmony where everyone
has according to her or his needs, and everyone gives according
to . . .

But alas, while
George and the gang at ABC are correct in concluding that people
desire to live in communities with similar values and tune into
media that will tell them what they want to hear in the first place,
they, as well as so many in this modern state-worshipping society,
fall well short of the mark in believing that the answer lies in
a good balance of public policy. Rather, the answer lies in less
public policy. Ever since McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), the
Civil War, the New Deal, civil rights legislation, and recently
the creation of a Department of Homeland Security, an increasing
amount of power has been granted to the federal government, and
almost every issue on the agenda in the twenty-first century seemingly
has a solution in the U.S. Congress. One cannot tune into the major
media without hearing some expert in some field arguing in favor
of "national standards" or uniformity of policy. Even
within states this is the case. In Colorado the newly instituted
smoking ban came about in part because some communities had enacted
their own bans while others had not. The argument was then proffered
that in order to make the "playing field" amongst bars
and restaurants more level throughout the state, a statewide ban
should be instituted.

Since its establishment
the government (at whatever level) has opted to insert itself into
more and more areas of people's lives. It should not be surprising
then, that battles to win elections or to pass or defeat legislation
are increasingly heated and angry. Sadly, it is in extremely rare
cases that either of the two major parties — or any parties for
that matter — submits that no public policy should be instituted
concerning a given issue. Rather, they argue that their policy is
the best policy.

While there
are numerous public policy areas that demonstrate the Reds and the
Blues ardently battling for their alternative over the other's,
education and marriage pose two striking examples. These are two
issues about which people need not have comprehensive understanding
of economics or foreign affairs in order to possess passionate beliefs.
These are issues that are deeply imbedded in people's personal and
family lives.

Educating children,
at one time the responsibility of local communities, is more often
than not now under the watchfulness of more intrusive state governments
as well as the ever more meddling federal government. This leads
to national debates over issues such as the teaching of evolution
versus creation. There is no reason why this should be a national
debate. If a school board says that only one will be taught or neither
will be taught or both will be taught, this should be of no concern
to those outside of that district. Parents within a district can
then opt to remove their children from those schools or accept the
teaching presented. In an ideal world of individually operated schools,
one would not even have to go out of the district, but merely trek
down the street to find a school that offers the preferred teaching
on the issue. Why is it that in the United States of the twenty-first
century five different Christian denominations, a Synagogue and
a Mosque can exist within three miles of one another with virtually
no turmoil, yet K-12 education must be uniform not only within the
community but within the entire nation? It may well be that there
is, in theory, a separation of church from state. Thus, at least
up until recently, religious organizations are not corrupted by
government and the desire for uniformity.

Marriage is
also a public policy question that tears apart the Reds and the
Blues. One side wants man and wife to be emblazoned upon the Constitution
while the other demands recognition from those who find it immoral.
Of course the debate would be diffused entirely if it were not for
myriad civil rights laws that are in place to "protect"
people from "arbitrary discrimination." If individuals
were free to treat homosexuals however they felt best (it should
go without saying that such treatment must be short of physical
harm should individuals prescribe to a warped world view asserting
that punching a gay man is the best way to treat him), then the
debate would not have to occur in public policy. As a business owner,
the market would determine who one might hire as an employee. If
the business owner makes a bad financial decision by hiring a heterosexual
who is less qualified, then the market will adjust accordingly.
However, the United States is light-years from having such a liberty-minded
policy. Therefore, if the decision must be made by the government,
then instead of amending the constitution to ban gay-marriage, why
not amend the constitution to state that full faith and credit does
not extend into the realm of marriage, and thus truly leave it up
to the states (or better yet, communities) to decide for themselves.
Then people could vote with their feet and live in the vicinity
of like-minded individuals with little to no concern for what happens
elsewhere.

Of course
these are just a couple of the issues that are bandied about by
the Reds and Blues these days. The constant threat of nationalized
health-care should be of the greatest concern. Health-care directly
concerns the individual's body. If personal health becomes an issue
of public policy (as it increasingly is with smoking, vending machine
offerings, and content of KFC chicken) then more and more lifestyle
choices will be decided in the public sphere, not individually.
Until the Reds and the Blues abandon the idea of national standards
on issues of such personal matters the people of the United States
should be in constant fear of 50% plus one utilizing the monopoly
of State power to impose strict lifestyle choices on the 50% minus
one. Make no mistake; the battle to become that majority will be
bloody.

July
11, 2006

Derek
M. Johnson [send him
mail
] teaches political science in Colorado.

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