Monday, December 01, 2003

In the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum mourns the lack of a "national debate" on the recently-passed Medicare reform bill. "[W]e as a nation have lost our appetite for grand domestic policy debates," she laments.

These sound like admirably democratic sentiments--until one considers who she meant by "we". Surely she didn't expect the average family to debate the finer points of Medicare reform over the Thanksgiving dinner table. Heck, the likes of Matthew Yglesias, Daniel Drezner and Oxblog's David Adesnik--none of them exactly strangers to policy wonkery--have all conceded that the subject of Medicare is one truly powerful snooze-inducer. Perhaps Anne Applebaum has a stronger stomach for it, but if so, she's in rare company.

In fact, the whole idea of "deliberative democracy" is rather dubious to begin with. After all, if the public ought to be ruminating on the minutiae of every issue, then what on earth is representative government for, anyway? Even if the public were competent to engage in such niggling discussion, they would have neither the time nor the inclination to do so, being far too preoccupied with their own lives to dwell, Applebaum-style, on such matters.

In practice, the system works quite well with much less public involvement. Voters get riled up over a few specific, fairly straightforward issues that they can grasp--Applebaum mentions two recent ones: telemarketing and spam--and happily leave the details of the rest to the political insiders, with the understanding that if they're handled sufficiently incompetently that they become visible problems, then politicians' heads will roll.

After all, that's how CEOs deal with underlings, or customers with merchants. All that they require is accountability, not micromanagement, and the threat to do business with someone else usually (eventually) suffices to produce competent results. If I trust the food I eat, the home I live in, and many other necessities of life to this system, then why not the laws that govern me, as well?

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