Good Policy = Good Politics

Walter Russell Mead:

How Change Works

Our political parties may be ideological in some of their inspirations and their rhetoric, but they are pragmatic. If an approach to an issue works and pleases voters, political leaders try to bring it on board.

This is especially true at times of transition like the present. The classical progressive approach to social problems has long jumped the shark; this means that conservative and Tea Party activists can seize the political high ground if they can convert slogans and preferences into policies that work. If you can get better educational outcomes for less money, your ideas will gain traction. If you can provide necessary environmental protection while creating a more favorable business climate, your state will start to grow—and people around the country will notice.

The strength of a ‘natural party of government’ is that those who believe in the ideological principles of a political movement do, on a long term, sustainable basis, a better job than their opponents at developing policies that address the actual problems of the American people. From the 1930s to the 1960s, the key ideas of the Democrats (like Bismarckian social insurance programs, government as the umpire in an economy of stable oligpolies and monopolies, expansionary fiscal policy during the Bretton Woods era when the dollar was the global monetary yardstick) worked so well that Republican presidents like Eisenhower and Nixon worked within a basically Democratic policy framework.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the conservative ideas espoused by President Reagan seemed to work, and so a Democratic president like Bill Clinton made some long term Republican ideas (welfare reform, fiscal restraint) an important part of his governing approach.

But the point is that longterm power is less about shouting slogans and proclaiming ideological principles. It is about using your political ideology to build policies that work so well that your political opponents try to steal them. You know you are winning when the other side promises to carry out the main ideas in your vision.

In a politics and poll obsessed period like the closing days of a national presidential campaign, it can be hard to remember, but the principle is something that any serious political activist of whatever ideological stripe can’t afford to forget. In America, political power doesn’t flow out of the barrel of a gun, and it doesn’t flow out of a megaphone either. Real political power — enduring, transformational political power — is the result of good policy. Fix problems that matter, and the people will listen to your ideas.

The Vile Progs were right about one thing – they could get away with all the lying and cheating if their policies were successful. Unfortunately for all of us, their policies failed.

Imagine if unemployment was down to 4.0% and the economy was growing at 4.0% (like when the Big Dawg was in office). Obama would be a shoo-in for reelection and Romney would be “taking one for the team” as token opposition.

The fact is most voters aren’t really into ideology, they are into whatever works. And they evaluate how well things are going based upon their own lives, not a bunch of data on the news. Unemployment is just a statistic unless you or someone close to you is out of work. And if you are unemployed you don’t care about statistics – you just want a job.

From a pragmatic standpoint the Clinton years were enormously successful. According to the ideological left they were the dark ages.

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20 Responses to Good Policy = Good Politics

  1. myiq2xu says:

    If you are one of those people who think the ends justify the means then you better hope the ends works.

    • myiq2xu says:

      The Democrats actually believed that once Obamacare was passed everyone would love it.

      It worked for Medicare, didn’t it?

      • djmm says:

        Well, it worked for Medicare because Medicare worked. Obamacare? I don’t even think Congressional Democrats believed in it. If they believed in it, why did they delay its full implementation?


  2. Glennmcgahee says:

    In Obama’s case its the means leading to the ends.

  3. votermom says:

    Wisconsin Tea Party rally parking lots filled with nails

    Who does this kind of thing? It’s straight out of old cartoons.

  4. Lulu says:

    The ideological left is about to enter a period of civil war. Those who trended towards moderate have left (after being told to do so). These are the people who used to reign in the nuttier stuff and keep the left in the realm of reality and away from fascism. They were purged and people like me are not coming back even if the Clintons’ regain the upper hand and take control of the party again. There is nothing short of the treason trial of Obama run by Democrats that could get me back into that next of vipers. Calls for a new leftist party are the cry for ideological purity and will peter out like all foolish movements do. To govern effectively you cannot be a purist. Obama made the Democratic party irrelevant.

  5. myiq2xu says:

  6. I’m watching Mitt and Ryan speak in Findlay OH, about an hour and a half northwest of Columbus, a Republican area, and I swear, we’ve GOT to elect those guys. It has gone beyond getting Obama out for me. These guys are what our country needs…..

    • pghpuma says:

      I’m “watching” Storm Watch 2012 – and hearing F&F ask why we didn’t spend stimulus money on shovel ready projects to run power lines underground. I’m still wondering why they never tried to finish Tesla’s Wireless project at Shoreham

  7. lateel says:

    This video is good…go in 11:20 sec and let it play. Great reasons why Obama will not be re-elected

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