Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Policy v Politics

An old one-line joke goes: "There is a reason that what doctors do is called practice."

The same can be said for policy. Seasoned politicians rarely have a strong grasp on the policy and public administration challenges that people in those fields face.  Politics, Policy, and Public Administration are all usually clumped together into a single field of "Political Science" in academia - but that in itself is actually a completely different field than the previous three. None of these cover what political operatives are meant to do - win elections. The confusion between these fields and the clumping them together is what makes disdain for one field become a disdain for all of these fields. 

There are commonalities between the fields: they all require political acuity and a sensitivity to how people react to what government is doing. There is overlap between the fields. Economics and foreign languages will help you in multiple fields for instance. Understanding of one field will help you in other fields, of course.  But make no mistake - they are separate fields where separate skills and specializations are needed.

I even made a chart:

Politicians are not expected to know how to create and administer polls to understand public opinion. That's what they have staffs for. Their staff is not expected to know in-depth policy details. They hire specialists for that and/or work with think tanks and party leadership. These specialists should have an idea of what is happening on the administration front in putting programs into action, but they do not worry themselves on the day to day details of managing the organizations. Throughout this whole process, political scientists are watching it unfold and are writing case studies on politicians, political operatives, policy people, and public administrators to understand it all from a bird's eye perspective. 

Most public administrators would not be able to tell you about similar programs to theirs in South Korea and Germany, but the political scientists can. All of these groups talk to one another and make sure that the whole ship does not go down. Asking it to be run efficiently is usually too much. All of these groups are often frustrated with the others. The policy people can't understand why the politicians pass bad legislation. The political operatives can't understand why the public administrators are making a politically decisive change to their programs at such a bad time. Etc... 

All of this is to say, when one field publicly weighs in on another. Chaos can break loose. What is politically popular may not be sound policy which may not be sound administration. 

With that said, I want to get into Todd Akin's comments tomorrow. Social policy is something I normally don't weigh in on because I figure it is just a very large (and successful) distraction from the economic needs of individuals, but I think this is a nice case study of  miscues and miscommunication.

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