“Impractical?”

Once, many long years ago, I was the legislative assistant for a U.S. Congressman. Like many young and idealistic professionals, I wanted to make the United States a better place [and I still do]. I implemented an early form of a computerized constituent response system so that my boss could get his ideas for reform and improvement across. I came up with plans for tax reform and quite a few others. A few of those my boss introduced, partly to humor me, I suspect, and partly because they were actually good ideas, but none of them ever even got a hearing. I also came up with a way to allow the U.S. Postal Service to run at a profit without continually jacking up first class letter rates [the general approach would still work today].

None of these proposals went anywhere, although they were certainly technically and practically feasible and could have been implemented. I won’t even come close to claiming I was a voice in the wilderness. There have always been idealists trying to make things better, and there still are.

But what my congressman told me, patiently at first, and then not so patiently, was that it didn’t matter how good something was, or how it would improve things, or how technical and practically feasible it was, if there wasn’t political support for the proposition. My proposals for improving the Postal Service were a perfect example. To this day, the USPS regards mass mailings as a marginal cost, even though the bulk of what’s carried are mass mailings and parcels. This means that the first class mail revenues have to support the bulk of core USPS costs. I’d simply proposed that mass mailers be charged the actual full cost of providing that service.

Needless to say, as the mass of junk mail even today continues to proliferate, that proposal was a total anathema to the highly subsidized mail industry – which is why at my house we recycle some 20-30 pounds of unwanted and unread catalogues every week, each sent for as little as twenty-one cents per pound. So, as a result, first class letter writers – and occasionally federal payments when the USPS runs a deficit – are subsidizing commercial for-profit advertising mailers, because it’s never been politically possible to enact what would seem like practical improvements.

There are many possible reforms, whether they’re in healthcare, taxes, or postal rates, which are technically and economically practical – but, without political support at all levels from the grassroots through the entire political structure, they’re effectively impractical.

To claim that the U.S. or any other country should be able to enact “practical” measures put in place elsewhere ignores the fact that any reform proposal is impractical unless political support either exists and can be mobilized or unless such political support can be developed.

And right now, in the United States, there’s just not enough political support in elected government itself for the reforms various Democrats are proposing, and very few of them are working to develop grassroots support. On the other hand, conservative Republicans have spent almost a generation developing an evangelical/conservative grassroots political network… and that effort is bearing its bitter fruit today… and this will continue until Democrats or others build broad-based political support willing not only to talk about but to work to get out votes and voters for their ideas.

9 thoughts on ““Impractical?””

  1. Hanneke says:

    Yep, political and media polarisation can make practical plans impossible to implement at the moment.

    But if that political landscape causes people to call *the plans themselves* impractical, dangerously idealistic ideas instead of what they are, namely politically unpopular but practical solutions which have been implemented elsewhere to solve specific problems the USA is struggling with, it becomes that much more difficult to rally support for real solutions to these real problems.

    Bernie Sanders’ town halls in deeply Republican areas and on Fox news, where Republican voters have cheered for his clear solutions to clearly explained problems, have shown that when you talk about specific issues and their solutions, a lot of ordinary Republican voters are not so different from ordinary Democratic voters in what they want.

    Dismantling the partisan divide, which causes people to blindly vote for their team instead of getting/gathering enough information to decide what results would be best for their lives and voting accordingly, is just as important as getting money out of politics.
    The only way to do that, as far as I can see, means talking clearly and realistically about both the problems and all the possible solutions.
    It can also mean needing to highlight why certain practical and proven solutions are impossible to implement in the current political climate. If people want the solutions badly enough, it might finally push them to break the political stalemate and vote for what they need instead of staying blindly loyal to a party that works only for the rich and powerful.

    If only those plans that are politically feasible within the status quo may be considered, that means that big corporations and wealthy donors will keep consolidating their grip on US politics, and the ordinary people will keep on being marginalized. Both centrist Democrats and Republicans are way too beholden to their rich donors to act against them, and the path this has put your country on is not good for anyone but the richest people and the largest corporations.

    Keeping voters focused on loyalty to their party, through fearmongering and misrepresentation, and withholding information about specific plans to deal with specific problems so people cannot cast informed votes based on the issues and their preferred solutions, keeps this trend alive.

    You have Republican readers on this blog. As so many Republican news sources are bivhly biased propaganda sources rather than impartial news sources, they may not automatically encounter unbiasedviews of any Democratic plans. Giving them accurate information thus becomes doubly important, as this may trigger them to find out more for themselves and decide their votes on their own decision about the issues important to them, instead of blindly voting party loyalty.
    Your Democratic readers also need to think about the difference between corporate centrist Democratic candidates (and the kind of decisions those have been making) and more progressive ones.

    Putting all the progessive Democratic plans aside automatically, because they cannot be achieved in the present, disfunctional, partisan political climate is not conducive to changing that climate. Especially since when they are considered on the issues and not the source, solutions from the progressive plans like Medicare for all resonate nearly as well with the Republican base as with the Democratic base, something which cannot be said for the centrist pro-corporate Democrats’ same-old status-quo ideas…

    1. One of the problems with the “centrist pro-corporate Democrats” is that far too many of them are essentially lazy, in that they don’t want to do the work of educating their constituents because that education will alienate their large donors, and to make up that funding loss and support requires even more intensive community interaction and involvement. Some of recently elected Democratic U.S. representatives have proved this will work, but the effort required was massive. The same, unhappily, is even truer on the Republican side because much of the Republican base has a knee-jerk reaction to certain phrases and words, and to explain practical solutions in a way that gains support without triggering automatic rejection requires care, patience, time, and applied intelligence.

      The other “practical” problem facing Democrats is that they’re spread all over the map in terms of their priorities, and I fear that unless they coalesce and concentrate, and educate, people on the most important core issues, that diffusion of priorities and energies will result in Trump’s re-election.

  2. Ed Goehe says:

    I leave to others the ideology of political advocacy and the issues raised here since there are always different views of any situation. I did want to share that just this morning I sent a note to my son citing quotation that could be applied to its stated purpose, and to others as well.

    I wrote to him,”There do remain simple truths to be found in reading.

    I was rereading Outcasts of Order by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. He had written as a quote in that book citing a fictitious source “Considerations on the Nature of Man” by Heldry. For me, it is worth recalling in interactions with others.

    “…do not ever attempt to convince another about anything by the use of facts or logic. A stupid man will not be swayed by facts. An intelligent man already knows those facts, and if he does not agree with you, he either has more accurate information than you do or his personal beliefs prevent him from accepting what you know to be true. In either case, insisting on pressing facts and logic on him will only strengthen his beliefs that he is correct and you are not. A gentle question, politely framed, can help determine the basis for his firmness and what course of action may be required……””

    There may well be value there for this discussion as well.

  3. R. Hamilton says:

    Any expansion of services at public expense is an act of enemies of liberty, and should be opposed by all means necessary, with the sole exception being those injured in the line of duty in public service (whether federal military at federal expense, local police or local firefighters at local expense, road repair crews that are injured in the hazards of their work, etc).

    As far as I’m concerned, liberty is more important than outcomes, and government should simply avoid adding obstacles to people’s lawful and productive pursuit of their own outcomes. For such few individuals as I’d make a personal exception, I’d regard it as my problem to pay for supporting them as I was able. Others can do the same, and if more fall through a PRIVATE “safety net”, too bad; I’m with those that long ago favored liberty over safety.

    Given that open-ended expansion of collectivism is consistently a disaster, this seems to me an eminently practical view; protect liberty as early as possible rather than when it’s too late.

    1. Wine Guy says:

      Most people who think this way do so until they are in desperate need.

      1. R. Hamilton says:

        Been hungry; didn’t like it. My own fault, my problem, not yours. Didn’t stay that way…

        1. Hannabel says:

          More republican BS.

          1. R. Hamilton says:

            Only conservatives and libertarians (and just leave me alone’s) are legitimate; all others including but not limited to communists, socialists, “progressives” (nobody hates progress, but economic, social, and most regulatory meddling via government generally is NOT progress), militant just about anything’s (whether Paris accord supporters, ELF, PETA, or whatever), are the enemy of individual liberty, without which we lose control over making our OWN outcomes, and are just a cog in a machine that may only pretend to care about individual outcomes, and may not even care much about overall statistical outcomes, although their real purpose, power and wealth sticking to their fingers, will proceed regardless. The end NEVER justifies the means, and the good of the many doesn’t matter if you walk all over individuals pursuing it.

            That’s not to say one can’t have a concern with any sort of issue pretty much. But if you want to be that way, walk or bike rather than drive an SUV yourself; don’t go bothering or taxing other people over it. They’ll see your example, and either do the same if practical for them, or ignore you and think you a fool. Not your job to change them.

            In my perfect universe, anyone not properly educated to be conservative or libertarian by the time they were on their own, would be in a loony bin, and would have to pay for their own room and board there.

          2. Except your “freedom” to pollute runs over my health and that of my children; your “freedom” to pay starvation wages creates homeless and disadvantaged who threaten civil order [and please don’t talk about shooting them, because if you have the right to shoot them, they have the right to shoot back, and the resultant anarchy runs over the rights of the rest of us]; your freedom to continue to release greenhouse gases is already resulting in tens of billions of dollars in damages, for which you’re not paying. You don’t want a civil society; you want an individual “rule of the strong” and screw the rest.

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