June 12, 2004

Policy Wonkery

Kevin Drum bangs his head against the wall:

The Washington Monthly: POLICY WONKERY....Atrios: "I've declared 'the age of wonk' has been over for some time. There's little point in having serious policy debates about anything."

I happen to love policy wonkery, but I feel the same way. More and more, it just feels like intellectual masturbation. I mean, I keep doing it because I can hardly bear to admit that it doesn't make any difference anymore, but as near as I can tell nobody in power cares two cents about actual policy these days. It doesn't matter whether something actually works better or worse than some other thing, only whether or not it helps your own team.

But hell, I suppose the reality is that it's always been like that. Rose colored hindsight can be a bitch.

No. It has not always been like that. It was not like that in the Clinton administration. It was not like that as far as foreign policy was concerned in the Bush I administration when Brent Scowcroft ran the National Security Council. It was not like that in the Ford administration.

And, even today, policy wonkery is still absolutely vital within the Democratic-Independent sphere. It's only the Republicans who are a lost cause.

It's very important that we continue to think and plan--to seek truth from facts, as it were.

Posted by DeLong at June 12, 2004 11:59 AM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post
Comments

One if the chief life-lessons from the Clinton administration is that no good deed goes unpunished.

But even if we don't get credit for the EITC, and deficit reduction, and a foreign policy that eventually got on track, it is still worth debating these things because that is the reason we want power.

When we stop debating these things and worry only about how to grab ever-more power we become like the Republicans.

But there is no point in making these things our public face or attempting to engage Republicans on the field of ideas. That may be what Atrios is referring to.

Posted by: CalDem on June 12, 2004 01:02 PM

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I think it was pretty sharp Republican policy to knock the AFL-CIO petition re China on the head.

Posted by: Tamade on June 12, 2004 04:49 PM

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I'm with you all the way, Brad! A full-court press on all the issues with as much intellectual weight as possible, and including massive public relations. The conservative right has been at it since the 1970's, and they won many battles almost by default, because the opposing arguments were rarely mustered to catchup.

Posted by: Lee A. on June 12, 2004 06:07 PM

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If you read Suskind's book "The Price of Loyalty", you see that O'Neill's chief complaint with Bush's rule compared to the Nixon White House is that Nixon ordered up what he called "Brandeis briefs" that argued both sides of a given issue as vigorously as possible, so that he could take opposing views into account when crafting policy. Bush doesn't seem to want contrasting views, and so here we are.

Unfortunately, Bush resembles Nixon in other ways.

Posted by: Bryguy on June 12, 2004 06:32 PM

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If Bush is so agaisnt listening to other views, How do you explain Colin Powell?

Posted by: Giles on June 12, 2004 10:59 PM

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If Bush is so agaisnt listening to other views, How do you explain Colin Powell?

Defense. Colin is there because there's a veneer of acceptance on the face of modern Republicanism for "colored folk". Colin is, in the words of Aaron McGruder, a "house nigger", the token Black Guy in an all-white picture, with Condi playing devil's advocate. Bush doesn't listen to him, although Karl might from time to time and advocate what Colin thinks because politically there's no other option.

I'm a proud wonker of the policy kind, and it pains me to see folks declare that wonkery doesn't matter. As a force in general public debate that's true, but all of my private debates revolve around getting people to look past partisanship and _think_. That's the most dangerous thing to the Republican agenda. That's why I wonk, why I will continue to wonk, because focused thought blows all their histrionics to smithereens. That's almost always what happens, unless you run across the rare soul who has no soul and simply spits back Limbaugh and expects to be taken seriously.

I feel sorry for Colin, I despise what he did at the U.N., I'm glad some people pay attention to what he's saying, and I hope we get some real adults running this country, and soon. If people would actually think for two seconds, it just might happen. Perhaps I'm deluded, but I believe that alot of folks out there still do think -- they just need a little prodding.

Posted by: Node of Evil on June 12, 2004 11:58 PM

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More and more, it [policy wonkery] just feels like intellectual masturbation

I hate to lower the tone (well, not really ..), but to speakers of Australian English this sentence is close to a tautology (someone who masturbates is called a 'wanker', and the term is often extended to those indulging in intellectual masturbation).

OTOH, a friend of mine once got into trouble while studying in the US by asking the girl next to him in class for a loan of a rubber (he meant a pencil eraser).

Posted by: derrida derider on June 13, 2004 01:33 AM

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"with Condi playing devil's advocate."

see yet more evidence of lively debate in the white house.

Posted by: Giles on June 13, 2004 01:42 PM

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Wonkery is right now in eclipse because for a period of time the country went mad because of the stock market crash and 911, and caught a millenniarian fever that we needed a messiah in the White House. We've never needed a messiah in the White House, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, TR, Wilson, FDR, Truman, JFK and Clinton weren't messiahs, they were leaders, politicians on most days and statesmen on their best days.

Wonkery is about to make a very large comeback, as the toys for boys crowd is having their wings clipped. The big promises and sweeping "brilliant paradigm shift" nonsense of Iraq is now retreating as we see it for what it is: a bungled version of what the CIA would once have done with other people's blood and a great deal less of our money.

Hold fast to the faith that competence wins out. Because while Adam Smith's dead hand might write slowly, it eventually crosses every t and dots every i.

Posted by: Stirling Newberry on June 13, 2004 05:43 PM

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Bush has his wonks, but it is the faith based approach. WWJD is the standard question to ask. Not what actually works, or what do we know and how we apply it. A whole group of people make decisions based on divining religious revelation (or the revelation a spiritual leader has divined) rather than logic and scientific method. This is the "cultural divide" and why stem cells research, creationim, global warming and a host of other issues are even issues.

Posted by: bakho on June 13, 2004 07:15 PM

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