I like to talk about public policy. I like examining an issue from multiple angles. I like reading the results of other’s research and seeing what sort of solutions and ideas stem from it. I like considering the numerous viewpoints on any issue, as well as people’s informed personal opinions. After all, that is what good policy is based on: research, data, reason, truth, weighing outcomes, compromise, dialog, all tempered and driven by an intent to produce a sound policy that will benefit the largest group of people over the longest term.

Unfortunately, most of the time, when I try to get a policy discussion going with a given group of people, the response I get from someone (or all of them) is, “Do you really want to talk about politics?”

***NEWSFLASH: Policy is not politics.***

Public policy involves a search for truth, the common good, sound research, careful examination, and yes, action by our government.

Politics, on the other hand, pretty much stands in the way of all of that.

I’m not sure when these two very different nouns became so closely enjoined in people’s minds, but it seems you can’t simply have a discussion about the right thing to do to address an issue of the people’s interest without somebody either clinging to a political ideology, blindly defending a political party’s standpoint, or pointing fingers at a presumed political adversary.

Politics is everything that seems to inhibit, hinder, deflect, regress, repeal, water down, suppress, or detract attention from sound public policy.

Politics is, “Who is running for president?” “Democrats say this and Republicans say that.” “80% of the populace wants this done, but I vowed not to do that, so…no.”

So many citizens seem to get so caught up in politics (I know I have) that they forget to pay attention to, or advocate for, or even think about public policy.

An old friend and his wife came to visit me recently. The topic of health insurance policy came up and within roughly 90 seconds his wife suddenly and defiantly stated, “I’m a libertarian, and they believe-” Wait. THEY believe? Why do you care what they believe? What do YOU believe? More importantly, on what evidence are you basing your belief? Any at all? Or just the “On the Issues” tab of the Libertarian Party website? Does your ideology keep you warm at night? Does it keep you fed? Employed? Insured? Safe from foreign invaders? Go on, set your ideology down for just 20 minutes. Pretend you’re an individual, I dare you.

Side note: Why, oh why, do some people have the need to label themselves? As though by doing so they are somehow defining themselves better when in fact, they are weaseling out of actually thinking for themselves? Thinking for yourself is the quintessential act of self-definition! When they find that label, are they relieved to suddenly have all of their opinions handed to them? When they encounter a new challenge or issue, do they run to the website or radio show of their newfound mantra-keepers to find out how they feel about it?)

Just look at the election of President Obama. So many progressives, liberals, and democrats (note: they aren’t the same thing) had waited so long to find a candidate who could win the white house. They were emphatic, some even obsessive, about the idea of Barack Obama becoming President. And he won! YAY! And now it seems they have little to be celebrating because rather than focusing on advocating sound policy, they focused on plain old politics – advocating for a candidate. That’s all. All that time, and money, and poll-watching, and cheering and the policy we’ve gotten in return over the last 2 1/2 years isn’t much to be excited about at all.

Of course, our media plays no small role in this either. Thanks to the disheartening lack of investigative policy journalism, if one tries to do even cursory research on policy using our mainstream media they will find little to no substantive fact, data, or research at all. No, the best we usually get is the trivialized statements of two ideological blowhards, “Republican leader says this. Democratic leader says that.” Occasionally a fact or figure from a non-partisan entity (like the GAO, CBO, or a research think-tank) slips into the copy, usually after the 2/3 point of the story and only after the “Jerk vs. Jerk” scenario has been adequately characterized for the audience in the first few paragraphs.

I get it, though. I mean I understand why it is this way. Researching, finding facts, combing through the BS, verifying legitimate sources, or, God forbid, actually reading a piece of legislation (talk about incomprehensible drivel!) is, in fact, hard, boring, and takes a lot of time. Time that we, as busy Americans, don’t have. After a day of work, groceries, kid transportation, homework, dogs, bills, lawn mowing, and tying your shoes, what are you going to do with your 30 free minutes before bed? Dig through hundreds of websites to find the two or three that give you enough solid information to read up on the long-term impacts of cutting recycling programs? Or are you going to watch American Idol?

And that’s ok! God knows, hard-working Americans have earned that right. Especially since, after all, there isn’t a lot we can do about forming good policy. Aside from writing legislators and executives (include sources of solid facts) and perhaps making phone calls to those same officials, or possibly donating to or becoming involved with organizations that advocate for sound policy in areas you care about, there isn’t much we can do directly. But for God’s sake, don’t be afraid to at least talk about it!

The next time you have the opportunity to talk policy with someone else, even someone who may disagree with you, don’t cut it off with a mistaken “Do we really want to talk about politics?” Instead, say something like, “I actually care a lot about this issue, and though I haven’t done as much research on it as I’d like, I want to talk about it more. So I’ll drop my ideological/political filter and let’s focus on coming up with a good policy. The policy that I would like to see is <blank>…what do you think?”

I encourage you to shy away from politics as much as you can, completely if at all possible. But don’t shy away from talking about policy. Talking about policy is the only way to make good policies.

Now that’s good policy.

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