Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Democratic ownership and empowerment

E.J. Dionne, Jr. thinks that Democrats should offer voters something other than "focus-group-driven sloganeering and mush." He points to the current issue of the Washington Monthly, which includes this article by editor Paul Glastris.

Here’s Glastris’ analysis of why several of President Bush’s ownership and empowerment initiatives haven’t be popular:

Americans love the idea of choice—in the abstract. But when faced with the actual choices conservatives present, they aren’t buying. The reason is that conservatives have constructed choices that fail to take human nature into account. People like to have choices but feel quickly overwhelmed when they lack the information or expertise to decide confidently, and they turn downright negative when the choices themselves seem to put what they already have at risk. Conservatives were bound to make these mistakes because their very aim has been to transfer more risks from government to individuals so that government’s size and expenditures can be cut. That’s not a bargain most Americans will accept. They like choice just fine, but they won’t trade security to get it.

There’s much of interest in the article, focusing on our allegedly natural responses to complexity and risk, responses that seem more prevalent in older Americans than in their younger counterparts. Glastris’ big idea is using government to structure the choices we would like to have--"libertarian paternalism" he calls it, following Cass Sunstein, among others.

If the Democrats are going to revive their political fortunes in the long term, it will because they pay attention to ideas like this. It would require that they beat back or "re-educate" certain of their constituencies, which may or may not happen. But Republicans would do well to pay attention, since they can’t simply expect or hope that Democrats will remain politically self-destructive indefinitely.

Discussions - 4 Comments

Glastris’ analysis excerpt tells us:
"They like choice just fine, but they won’t trade security to get it.".

If this is indeed true for a majority of Americans, then we’ve already joined with "Old Europe" in the steady spiral to national death.

When "security" supplants Liberty and Freedom, a Nation is doomed!

Two additional thoughts. First, my elderly in-laws are having a heck of a time figuring out what to do about the prescription drug benefit, and they’re unhappy. Second, Glastris does concede that the comfort level with choice is a generational thing. The more accustomed you are to choice, and the more capable you are of informing your choices, the more you welcome it.

It’s third-way politics. Whoever seizes it wins. The Dems have their own politics to overcome to do it, but conservative shrieking about the cost of No Child Left Behind (which contained important reforms) and the Medicare Reform Act of 2003 (which also contained important reforms of just the sort being described -- namely, Health Savings Accounts) suggests the GOP isn’t quite ready to seize the agenda either. It’s too bad. President Bush truly is willing to push this stuff. What other GOP pols are?

Libertarian paternalism is a concept akin to the round square. I would simply call this Fascism, we own the property but the gov tells us how to use it...

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