Policy or Judgment?
I’ve been intrigued by what seems to me to be an evolution in the way we choose our elected officials. From my understanding of history, the purpose of a representative form of government is to have the people collectively choose a subset whom they trust to make decisions that would reflect, as closely as possible, the desires that they would have, were they to be informed of the relevant information. That is, they are supposed to choose someone in whose judgment they trust.
When an elected official uses judgment, it’s not unreasonable to expect a shift in policy as new information becomes available or the fundamentals change. In fact, not only is it not unreasonable, it should be expected.
But increasingly our government officials are being pilloried for using judgment.
Look at Chief Justice John Roberts, whose job as a judge is, by definition, to use judgment. When he found the health insurance individual mandate to be constitutional, he went overnight from being the hero of conservatives to a traitor. He wasn’t expected to use judgment; he was expected to toe the line on conservative policy. And, when he failed to do so, he was vilified for it.
We have been hearing an ever-growing chorus of members of Congress who are retiring because they can no longer stay in Congress in good conscience, because they are increasingly unable to use their judgment, and are instead expected to hold fast to an overly simplistic set of immutable policies.
And so, over time, voters have shifted from choosing elected officials based on judgment to choosing them based on policy. Those who were unwilling to acknowledge the shift paid for it with their jobs. Remember “read my lips”? President George H. W. Bush made the right judgment call in raising taxes when he did, but it violated the policy under which voters chose him.
The problem with choosing our representatives based on policies is that they are immutable and evergreen. Until taxes are eliminated altogether, they can always be lower. Until our government is literally bankrupt, we can always spend more on police officers, firefighters, teachers, roads, military, and healthcare. Policy of this sort doesn’t leave room for acknowledgment of tradeoffs or prioritization.
Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney hasn’t had a career of policy, which has resulted in particularly unenthusiastic support from the Republican base. But neither has he had a career of judgment. How can we tell? Because a representative using judgment can explain why his conclusions have changed over time. Romney could have explained why he thought Romneycare was good when he supported it, but that his opinion had changed because of lessons learned. Instead, he has tried to explain why the PPACA is completely different from the virtually identical program he supported in Massachusetts. That’s not showing judgment; that’s pretending he has been following a consistent policy all along.
Compare this to Representative Paul Ryan (R-Janesville, WI), who is Romney’s running mate. Ryan has long run on a policy platform. While his votes in Congress haven’t always hewn to the policy, he has nonetheless managed to build a reputation for being a conservative policy man, with none of that pesky judgment to get in the way. It is this reputation that garners the support of the Tea Party.
What we’re left with is a ticket that has neither judgment nor policy at the top, and solely policy in the #2 slot.
Things are different on the Democrats’ side, with a candidate at the top who is focused on judgment. As you might imagine, I prefer this model. That said, while I think the policy that is derived from President Obama’s judgment aligns pretty closely with my own, it is also clear that his judgment in getting the resultant policies enacted has not delivered the desired results. Perhaps nobody could have; it’s hard to tell in absence of a control. I am more inclined to believe that judgment at the top simply cannot be effective against countervailing policy.
Given that judgment continues to wane as policy waxes in the District of Columbia, I’m afraid this does not bode well for our nation’s future.
But perhaps I’m too much of an idealist and not enough of an ideologue. What do you think?
- Truth becomes first casualty of new Romney-Ryan ticket (capitolhillblue.com)
- Steve LaTourette Calls Grover Norquist Tax Views ‘Crap,’ Congress ‘An Alcoholic’ (huffingtonpost.com)