December 16, 2009

When the time comes

Timing is everything.

Lately the theme here is public policy and how it gets made--or doesn't. I've been bouncing off some of the research of political scientist John Kingdon's very useful book Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies. Although this book was written in the 1980s about federal legislation, it rings pretty true today even at the state level.

If you are interested in this kind of thing, you can get in touch with your inner policy wonk by clicking on earlier entries.

As mentioned earlier, Kingdon refers to wonks as policy entrepreneurs, who are people willing to put time and effort into developing ideas for how laws and programs could work.

Let's say a given wonk or group of wonks develops a really good policy idea. As the saying goes, that and a couple of bucks will buy you coffee in most places unless you like the fancy kind. It's important in this early stage to get the idea out there to as wide an audience as possible--and especially the audience that pays attention to such things and can help make them happen. He calls this process "softening up," a term that brings artillery barrages to mind.

As he put it,

Who are policy entrepreneurs trying to soften up? Some of the time, they speak of educating the general public. Presidential speeches, for instance, are used to "bring the public along," in the words of one bureaucrat...

A second target is a more specialized public, peculiar to a particular issue.. As with the general public, the purpose of the softening up is to insure that the relevant public is ready for a certain type of proposal when the time does come...

I think the key words are "when the time does come." I've frequently written here about the similarity of this kind of work to my martial arts hobby. As much as one might like to, you can't usually kick someone in the head (in a friendly way) just because you want to; you can only do it when an opening exists.

In my experience as in Kingdon's analysis, it takes a long period of preparation to be able to move quickly to get something done when this happens. But without an opening or a window, it probably won't happen. That's what makes it interesting.

NOTHING BUT SHAME. Here's E.J. Dionne on dirty deeds done dirt cheap (to coin a phrase) in the US Senate. And here's the way the prospects for health care reform looks now.

EASY MONEY. Economist Dean Baker calls for a tax on financial speculation here.

FREE MEDS. 270,000 West Virginians may be eligible for free prescription drugs under the WVRx program.


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