Wednesday, April 5, 2017

#95 / Focus On Facts And Evaluate The Trade-Offs

Shortly after I wrote the blog posting that appeared here yesterday ("Carnage And The Cure"), I encountered a couple of items that I think augment and illustrate the point I was trying to make. 

In a podcast hosted by The Nation, "Start Making Sense," Chris Hayes tells listeners: "Trump ‘Knew Literally—And I Mean Literally—Nothing About’ His Health-Care Bill."

In an article in The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf argues that "Right-Wing Media Saved Obamacare.”

Both Hayes and Friedersdorf illuminate what happens when politics becomes fundamentally disconnected from the "facts," and from the "truth." When politicians and elected officials who are advancing specific policy proposals try simply to advocate for the ideas without connecting the ideas to the relevant facts, thus distorting the realities to make their arguments seem better, or to assert that the advocate is on the "right side" of an issue, they make it impossible for our political process to function as it is supposed to (and as it ultimately must). An effective politician (or political party) needs to be on the "right side," no doubt about that. That was my point yesterday, but that's not enough. 

Friedersdorf, particularly, points out that the "truth" about any specific policy statement is that all policies have both upsides and downsides, so that presenting only the "upside" of the argument makes it impossible for politics to work the way it is supposed to. Politics is, essentially, the way that collective groups make decisions about what to do, and that invariably requires a decision and a choice about what sort of downsides are acceptable to achieve the upsides being pursued. 

When political leaders and elected officials don't truthfully report on both the upsides and the downsides of their policy proposals, they can paint themselves into a political corner, which is what happened in the recent health care reform debacle in Congress. When the public ultimately realizes that the particular trade-offs that are inherent in the policy being advocated are such that the policy proposal itself is unacceptable, those pushing what turns out to be an unacceptable policy proposal will crash and burn.

In the case of the proposal to "repeal and replace Obamacare," which does have some attractiveness to many, the attractive upsides go along with the downside that this "repeal and replace" proposal would have required depriving about twelve million persons of health care protections they are currently receiving. As it turns out, that was a "non-starter" for the public, so the right-wing Republicans pushing the "repeal and replace" idea (without disclosing what was actually involved) saw the whole endeavor come to naught. 

Chris Hayes' point is even more basic. In the case of the Republicans in Congress proposing to "repeal and replace Obamacare," the politicians were probably just trying to fool the public, and pretty much understood the truth themselves. In the case of President Trump, though, it is clear that he has no commitment whatsoever to knowing what the facts are, or what the upsides and the  downsides are of the political positions he promotes. 

Focusing on the facts, and being clear about the trade-offs, is a fundamental requirement for any politics that hopes actually to address important public policy issues in any helpful way. 

Trump, it appears, like P.T. Barnum, is simply looking for whatever argument will get the suckers into the tent.

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