It is a consistent adage that there is no “perfect” public policy. You could argue things like women’s suffrage and reconciliation to right the wrongs our founding fathers did (or more accurately didn’t do) regarding non-white races (the despicable “3/5th” compromise) should be no-brainers… but still there isn’t perfection. Someone, even those simply living with racist or sexist attitudes, will criticize legislation stating some kind of imperfection.
But that’s the point. Public Policy will never reach a perfection. Legislation intent, wording, amendments, enforcement, repeal… our system is built with these imperfections into the systems. We actually need these imperfections to truly showcase our freedom, our democracy. Without them, we would have a dictatorship or an oligarchy… a system that denies imperfection because it can quell debate.
This is why it always intrigues me about local government and local ordinance/legislation issues. While we all, in some form of intuition, agree that laws/ordinance aren’t perfect, we often neglect that other component of public policy. Not the “policy part… the “public” part.
Laws are built and often they are in some kind of opposition to our own personal values. It’s inevitable. Ever see someone around April jumping up and down yelling, “Yee-Haa! It’s time to pay taxes! So fun!”
But it is done. It is done (perhaps grudgingly) because we know that the social contract we have as a community tells us that these rules (or these taxes) are used for the benefit of the common good.. or the common interest. Putting it another way… it benefits community.
Community isn’t one-size-fits-all. It is debates, disagreements, consensus, joy, togetherness, isolation.. the works. But still, with all these things, community proceeds. It marches on. We can join it or retreat from it.
What amazes me is people who “personalize” public policy. What I mean by this is when take their personal opinion (or what they feel the effect will cause to “them”) and try to debate using that alone. They said things like the “the reason this is bad law is that ‘they’ will be hurt by it.” When pressed to identify who the “they” is, very often it is concluded quickly – there is no “they”… there is just a “me.”
Now understand, I’m not saying you not allowed to have a personal opinion or position. On the contrary, that is the right of every person. However, that personal opinion only fuels the public policy debate, not frames it. Just because you don’t like something or feel something will “hurt” you, doesn’t mean it is an invalid policy. It just means you have recognized that is isn’t jiving with you personal opinion.
Now it’s your job to expand that out into the public. Other may agree with you, but you need to position your thoughts relative to that – at least you need to to be effective as an influencer. Take politicians. No matter the level (federal, state, local) politicians build their argument by building coalitions. Strength in numbers. One politicians pushing a personal agenda is an easy dismiss. A coalition? Now that’s policy savvy.
Why is this on my brain? I was just witness to the perfect example of confusion between public policy and personal opinion AND policy versus political. A local ordinance debate shifted to a “I’m hurt by this” discussion.
Yes, someone will have to adjust with new ordinances. Someone always does. If it is someone else, it just a thing. But if it’s YOU who senses to danger, then of course the law is terrible.
Bigger picture people are always needed to remind us all that these kinds of debates – about public policy – need to settle inside the realm of “what is strong for the community” and slide away from “it hurts me.”
“There’s a tremendous gap between public opinion and public policy,” said noted American political philosopher Noam Chomsky.
Indeed there is.
The challenge for us who want to be leaders and community change agents is to remind ourselves that the strength of community development is not in personal.. but in the public. It is in the approach to rise our level of debate beyond out backyard.. and to see all the grass around us. (sing it, Luda.)
Just my $.02 cents…. ~DK