Going Beyond the B.S. (Bumper Stickers)

It’s primary election time. Soon, the 2006 political season will descend on us—and with it, the inevitable assortment of exaggerated claims, pious moral pronouncements and impractical, unconstitutional and ludicrous policy proposals. Since hiding in a cave somewhere until it’s all over is generally not an option, when Congressional candidate A unveils his “Major Initiative to Solve the Boll Weevil Problem,” I am offering the following four easy questions to help you evaluate the candidates and their proposals:

 Question One: Is there general agreement that Boll Weevils are a problem?

Many of our fellow citizens believe that “dirty” books, gay parenting or retailers who substitute “Seasons Greetings” for “Merry Christmas” are among our most pressing social problems. Many of the rest of us don’t—in fact, some of us think our biggest problem is the jerks who insist on screaming about these “threats to morality and American culture.” Maybe some farmers welcome Boll Weevils.

 Question Two: Is there agreement on how to solve that problem?

Assuming that there is some level of agreement that a particular element of our common lives presents us with challenges—immigration and the outsourcing of American jobs come to mind; there are many others—is there any consensus on how that particular problem should be solved? (If Tom Friedman is right and the world is really “flat,” the measures we employ to deal with outsourcing probably ought to take its inevitability into account.) What does the evidence tell us about the Boll Weevils?

 Question Three: Is this a problem only government can solve?

Just because Uncle Beauregard was injured when he fell out of his golf cart, does it really make sense to pass a law requiring all golf cart manufacturers to install seat belts? Aren’t some problems best left to individuals, parents, or nonprofit organizations? Or—in the case of Boll Weevils—to farmers?

Question Four: Does the proposed solution pass the ‘smell test’?

 Does our earnest candidate demonstrate knowledge of available evidence on this issue? There are, for example, numerous studies showing that children raised by gay parents do just as well as those raised by straight ones—is Moral Paragon Candidate X aware of that research?  Is Fearless Candidate Y using “wedge issues” to appeal to a particular constituency—say the Wingnut Right—at the expense of other citizens? Is she simplifying complex issues? Substituting slogans for proposals, and labels for analysis? Is willingness to get serious about Boll Weevils really an indicator of her opponent’s fidelity to American Values?

 Can we really solve the nation’s problems with bumper sticker policies? Can we reduce criminal justice to Officer Friendly, Dirty Harry and Smoky the Bear? Or save American values by censoring Hollywood, outlawing abortion and disenfranchising gays?    

Or will 2006 be the year America comes to its senses?