Definitions of Success Matter in Policy Debates
Doug Mataconis’ post on the immigration debate reminded me of the following from Scott Lemieux of LGM:
Chait and Yglesias note something interesting about the conservative opposition that is almost certain to kill immigration reform. Almost none of the arguments focusing on border security compare the bill to the status quo; instead, the comparison is to some implausible baseline in which the border is entirely “secure.”
I have mentally noted this problem throughout the debate, but have not yet written about it. For example, Senator Cornyn attempted to amend the Senate bill to require include the following:
1. 100% Situational Awareness – monitoring capability at every segment of Southern border
2. Full Operational Control – defined as at least 90% apprehension rate along Southern border
There were a number of other strictures (see the link) in the proposal and they all summed to being a) fantasies based on a total misunderstanding of how the world works, b) ridiculously high thresholds designed to kill the legislation, or c) all of the above.
Making perfection, or near-perfection, as a condition for moving forward to implement new policies is a sign of not wanting the new policies to ever come about.
Policy making is about incremental change, especially in a democratic setting. The comparison is not between the status quo and some imagined reality one wishes to live in, but between the status quo and achievable improvements. The debate should then be about a) agreement over what achievable improvements to pursue, and, b) whether the cost of moving towards those improvement is worth paying (in time, effort, and treasure).
One of the telling aspects of this debate is that Republican Party does not appear to actually want to improve the status quo, despite how awful that appear to think that it is. If every proposal is designed to stop policy change, then it is reasonable to conclude that they do not want policy change. The behaviors also lend credence to the notion that GOP behaviors are driven far more by identity politics than about policy concerns.