Reframing policy failures: an American tradition
July 1, 2013 § 9 Comments
Dalrock’s latest post exposes a common political gambit: the re-framing of a policy failure as a moral failing in the populace. This permits those who favor the failed policy, and therefore do not want to see it changed, to avoid taking responsibility and fixing the actual problem by changing the policy:
The liberal response to conservatives pointing out that high taxes are strangling the economy is to accuse those responding to the current incentives of being selfish or unpatriotic. We see the same pattern across a slew of issues, including stifling environmental regulations, capital gains taxes, minimum wage laws, and rent control. Liberals tend to want to shame actors into going against their own best interest in order to prop up bad public policy, where conservatives tend to point out the folly of using shame and moral coercion to overcome bad policy. The solution to bad policy, conservatives regularly point out, is to fix the policy, not to try to strong arm companies and individuals to go against their own best interest.
But all of this suddenly changes when the bad policy is regarding marriage. Then the same conservatives* who stand ready to offer a detailed lecture on the need to match risk with reward, authority with responsibility, and to have consistent and fair enforcement of contracts suddenly switch to the tactics of a liberal defending a 90% marginal tax rate**.
“Sure it goes against a man’s best financial and legal interests to marry under the current system, but making foolish choices regarding risk and reward is what being a man is all about! Where is your sense of adventure, your patriotism?”
This sort of denial, which enables liberals to maintain their support of policies despite the manifest failure of those policies (most modern self-identified “conservatives” have strong loyalties to liberalism, disagreeing with other liberals and more radical leftists mainly about the details of policies and priorities) — this denial has a long pedigree, going back at least to the American founding. John Adams, for example, preemptively stated that any failures in the American experiment would be attributable, not to weaknesses in the Constitution, but to moral failings in the populace:
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”