Getting ahead of policy

I’m not a wonk at all. The other night I had dinner at a friend’s house and we discussed the proposed domestic spending freeze. I opposed it on ideological grounds. To me, government spending is a (nebulous) key to ending the recession and protecting citizens from the whims of the powerful. My friend feels similarly, but she had concrete reasons, like that government domestic spending only increases by 1.7% every year and is therefore not a significant source of our climbing debt. Now, she’s a former Hill staffer, so it makes sense that she’d have a more sophisticated critique, one that lawmakers might be more inclined to discuss.

But I’m still a citizen, and my opinion counts no matter how familiar I am with the details. This makes me more than a little uncomfortable, since if I’m responsible for my fellow citizens, I’m also charged with keeping myself informed.

Beyond voting, it seems like the public only really sways policy by making a big fuss. Unless you’re the kind of person who can manufacture a big fuss on the fly, you need to make your case at a critical moment. Say, before a bill has been written at all, before ground has been broken on the specifics of any deals.*

* Of course, people with my political orientation can make as a big a fuss as we’d like and lawmakers still wouldn’t listen.

But we’re usually not in a good position to do so. Thanks to the inadequacies of mainstream media, the public usually stumbles into a policy discussion way too late. Now you could turn yourself into a wonk, read all the journals and blogs, and prep yourself that way, but there’s only so many hours in the day, and after another shift at my menial job, my eyes glaze over a bit.

A lot of people devote themselves to a single issue or narrow slice of policy, and manage that way. What should the rest of us do?

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1 Response to “Getting ahead of policy”


  1. 1 Urk January 29, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    hmm. Know enough about how some/most of the important terms are grounded that you have some structural sense of what’s bullshit and what’s not. & less reactively, have a sense for areas where the status quo is ok and places where it’s volatile/harmful/shameful. Not that this is what I do. I read a bunch of blogs that i mostly agree with in order to convince my self that what I already believe is also some kind of consensus.

    I agree about the spending freeze. Not that I’m ideologically in opposed to it, but, as I understand it, the most relevant historical model suggests that doing so could lengthen and deepen the recession. I don’t see that as being ideologically opposed, it seems pragmatic and not ideologically prohibited.


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