Those of us who teach public administration and policy proceed on the (generally unarticulated) assumption that policy debates are “evidence-based”–that is, that parties to the discussion begin with a general agreement about the nature of the argument–should we pass this bill, which will do X or Y? Should we contract out this function to a for-profit or non-profit entity? We may see the merits and demerits of the proposed action differently, but we assume a “reality based” starting point.
Increasingly, however, in this age of talk radio, internet arguments and diminishing reach of traditional news sources, we aren’t starting from the same reality. The current debate about healthcare reform is a good example: reasonable people can and will differ over the wisdom or effectiveness of the various proposals on the table, but much of the rhetoric being employed “assumes facts not in evidence,” as we lawyers like to put it.
The question for the classroom is how to help students deal with and analyze a policymaking process that is increasingly chaotic and unreasonable–a process in which participants do not engage with the arguments involved, but seemingly talk over each other. If, as a popular book title suggests, men are from Mars and women from Venus, have we come to a point at which liberals are from Pluto and conservatives are from Alpha Centuri ?