December 03, 2009

Red light, green light

Victor Hugo in days before Disney and Broadway.

Victor Hugo once said, "Greater than the tread of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come."

John Kingdon, author of Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies, wrote that Hugo's phrase "captures a fundamental reality about an irresistible movement that sweeps over our politics and our society, pushing aside everything that might stand in its path." His 1984 book examines just how this happens in the context of American politics and it seems to me to hold up pretty well today. And while he focused on changes at the federal level, his theories hold up pretty well at the state level as well.

Anyone who has ever tried to influence policy at either level knows that sometimes you get a green light and sometimes (usually more often in my case) the light is red and can stay that way for a long time. In his analysis, which I'm going to be looking at over the next few days, there are three streams that flow their merry way but sometimes can link up. When that happens, major changes can occur.

The big three are the political, policy and problem streams. The political is the most visible and is mostly influenced by elections, the perceived national mood, and the ambitions of major elected officials. The policy stream is less visible and is inhabited by staffers, advocacy and interest groups, and policy wonks such as myself. The problem stream consists of events and opportunities that rise to national attention and seem to demand action.

In his view, when the major political players become aware of a a major problem or opportunity for which an already worked out policy solution might apply, things can happen. The first stream sets the agenda while the second works out possible alternatives that might address the problem.

More on this to come.

SPEAKING OF PROBLEMS AND ALTERNATIVES, President Obama's jobs summit starts today. One solution used with success in Minnesota might be worth a look.

WHILE WE'RE AT IT, the Economic Policy Institute has proposed its solution to unemployment crisis here.

ETHICAL CAPITALISM. Here's how one economist's vision of policy alternatives found an audience.

HEALTH CARE. Versions of health care reform in both the US House and Senate contain major expansions of Medicaid eligibility, which would extend coverage to millions of Americans. Here's a look at how this would benefit West Virginia.

ACTION ITEM. If you are in the Charleston area this evening and want to publicly oppose military escalation in Afghanistan, WV Patriots for Peace is sponsoring a vigil from 5:15pm - 6:15pm at Brawley Walkway (across from Chili's on Court St).

CHANGING THEIR TUNE. Blue whales are singing differently than they used to.


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