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October 26th, 2009 3:08 pm
Obama’s Approach to Public Policy

In the current issue of National Affairs, William Schambra gives a thoughtful analysis of President Barack Obama’s approach to solving public policy problems:

In one policy area after another — from transportation to science, urban policy to auto policy — Obama’s formulation is virtually identical: selfishness or ideological rigidity has led us to look at the problem in isolated pieces rather than as an all-encompassing system; we must put aside parochialism to take the long systemic view; and when we finally formulate a uniform national policy supported by empirical and objective data rather than shallow, insular opinion, we will arrive at solutions that are not only more effective but less costly as well. This is the mantra of the policy presidency.”

It’s also a tune out of harmony with America’s constitutional system of checks-and-balances. In order to be successful under Obama’s Progressive-inspired notion of policy making, the creation, implementation, and administration of policies must be shielded from people with priorities that differ from the expert-determined norm.

To be successful by its own definition, each of its policies must necessarily be rational, coherent, and all-encompassing, whether the issue is health care, energy, or education. And yet, as the early Progressives knew all too well, critical elements of the constitutional system — the executive cabinet, federal decentralization, the separation of powers, and the extended commercial republic — serve to shred and fragment policy proposals as they make their way from the minds of their expert designers through departmental bureaucracy and legislative committees (not to mention their hearings in the court of public opinion). Once enacted, the execution of policy is similarly trammeled by our political system’s fragmented dispersal of administrative authority. The result is often policy that is irrational, incoherent, and partial. Policies not designed to take account of that reality usually turn to mush in practice.”

Though lengthy, this post is worth the time it takes to read. Hopefully, by the time the next presidential election rolls around, someone will have thought about how to redefine the limits of human knowledge in a way that reaffirms human dignity and encourages human flourishing. Otherwise, we may be fighting to overcome a new consensus that the elites really do know best.

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