Sound policy requires more than fury to develop

I am a true believer in the personal health benefits of excessive running. There is little more than religion at play in shaping my position on the subject. I overlook injuries, ignore exhaustion and scoff at suggestions that a day off now and then is probably good for me in the long term. I set aside the scientific and economic data in favor of the endorphin high that I translate into mental health. In other words, I have developed a completely unsound position on running. But who cares? It is my policy and I don’t advocate that anyone else adopt it.

Were I to launch a campaign designed to require that all Durango spend the same number of hours running that I do each day, it would take a lot more than my admittedly insane commitment to the practice to win hearts and minds. I would have to provide evidence that the benefits of the policy would outweigh its costs – for people’s budgets, waistlines, knees, interest and tolerance for the filthy feet that result from slogging along dusty trails. With a requirement of sound analysis, I could not make a case that such a policy is best for the larger community.

Any policy worth the hot air it takes to pitch it is informed by a lot more than an ideological persuasion. And any worth the sweat invested in developing something reasonable is backed by thorough analysis of what the impacts of the policy will be on individuals and the larger community it would govern. In the national arena, we are not seeing enough of this exercise these days.

Instead, there is an alarming number of ideologically informed policy proposals that lack sufficient economic or scientific underpinnings to give them any traction. What results is a litany of insults and personal attacks that do nothing to move the debate in a positive direction, let alone shape sound policy.

The most egregious current example of this is, of course, the attack from the right on women’s reproductive autonomy. This growing chorus began with a sour note and has become increasingly discordant as election season heats up. Leaving aside the details of the slurs for now – they have been well-covered by pundits equally outraged though far more eloquent than I – the sum total of the discourse is patently offensive and downright absurd (Some would say the same about my position on running, by the way).

The absurdity comes into sharp focus when considering just a tiny slice of the economics at hand. When women have affordable access to birth control and the legal right to make decisions about when and how many children they would like to have, their economic picture brightens considerably compared to the alternative.

Instead of facing an uncertain future with respect to childbearing, women can plan and prepare for how that future will unfold, making career, financial and medical decisions accordingly. There is economic incentive for all involved: Insurance companies pay far less for contraception than for prenatal care and childbirth. Women’s earning potential increases dramatically when they are able to work full time – something that parenthood has been known to compromise. And for those women who lack the resources to pay for prenatal care, childbirth and child care, guaranteeing the means to avoid those costs has a significant public and individual economic benefit.

None of these examples is steeped in any particular ideology. It is simply sound policy: for women, for families, for businesses, for doctors, for federal budgets. And the only way the policies that embody these tenets could have ever gotten as far as they have is with the careful analysis that informed them. Throwing rhetorical bombs that insult and dismiss a broad swath of the population does not get you to the same destination.

Nor does picking on a representative of that demographic.

Take Sandra Fluke for an excellent example. Fluke gave testimony in Congress this winter supporting mandatory insurance coverage of contraception, and for her efforts was branded a “slut” by Rush Limbaugh. She gave Limbaugh’s input about as much attention as it deserved and continued her work to support the sound policy her testimony endorsed. She can do that because requiring coverage for contraception is the right thing to do and the reasoning for it is even better. Who cares what Limbaugh says?

I spoke with Fluke earlier this month about these issues and the rhetoric surrounding them.

“I think it’s really important to see that when your opponent is reduced to those types of attacks or when someone who is fighting a policy is reduced to those types of attacks, it means it’s a really good policy – a policy that Americans support and will stand behind,” Fluke said.

She is right, of course, and her ability to redirect the debate about the policy rather than responding to the ad hominem bullying that it devolved to with Limbaugh’s comment and those of others before and since is the challenge for all who aim to do some good on the public stage.

For those who just want to be mean, I might suggest they go running instead.

Megan Graham is a Herald editorial writer and policy analyst. Reach her at meg@durangoherald.com.