Tag Archives: how government works

The Important “How” Question

When the shoe fits….

A recent post to Washington Monthly took Democrats and liberals to task:

For the most part, today’s left-leaning progressives are almost entirely focused on politics, economic justice, social issues, and the influence of money in politics. These are important subjects. But the vast complex of government is largely a black box to these folks. Other than defending the idea of government against anti-government conservatives, getting rid of the filibuster, reforming the primary system, and occasionally calling for more “accountability” and “transparency,” they would be hard pressed to articulate any coherent vision of how to reform the government we have, or any real understanding of how the damn thing works.

In all fairness, this is a thoroughly bipartisan flaw.

Whenever I hear people complaining that the President–any President–promised to do such-and-such and hasn’t done it, I want to ask the complainer if s/he has ever heard about those pesky three branches of government…

It also underscores a lesson I am constantly trying to hammer home in my policy classes: although the “what” is clearly important, the “how” is equally so. In fact, it is often only when we try to figure out how to do something–how to craft a system or device that will get us from here to there–that we have to confront the very real possibility that the “what” we so ardently desire isn’t achievable.

Our ubiquitous smart phones didn’t come about because someone said, gee, wouldn’t it be great if we could access the internet from our phones? Achieving the goal required understanding how to make the damn thing work.

Genuine political reform requires intimate knowledge of those boring nuts and bolts, an understanding of how government works (and–increasingly–why it doesn’t).