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April 22, 2005

Policy As Written, Policy As Enforced « Social Issues »

Does our society, or more importantly, do our authorities completely lack common sense?

If you take the public education system's various Zero Tolerance policies, or the Federal governments War on Drugs as examples, I guess you have to say we do.

Yes, "we", because the government and the administration for public schools are hired by us, and we have direct input into the tenure of both.

Maybe an even more important question is: can we restore common sense to our society, government, and empowered authorities?

The reason is this is an important question is that there are at least three major issues in the news right now that I can think of right off the top of my head that could be resolved with an infusion of common sense.

1) Abortion
2) the relation between religion and government
3) Same-Sex Marriage rights

It is these discussions that provide most of the vitriol in the blogosphere and op-ed pages. It is these topics that have deepened the fissures between liberal and conservative, between the religious and the atheist, that threatens to fracture both parties into a hundred squabbling factions.

I know most of us are tired of it, but nothing ever gets resolved.

Stepping back a moment, it seems like the main problem is that these issues are being argued on the basis of singular examples rather than common sense. For instance: "I have an uncle who has been 100% faithful to his boyfriend for 70 years, and is a model of love and chastity, so how can you deny him the right of marriage?" Well, public policy is not and should not be made on the basis of one example. Or: "What if a girl were raped by her father right after they moved to a new town so she didn't have anyone to turn to for help in dealing with the crime and the pregnancy she now faces? So we must have federally-funded abortion-on-demand without parental notification legal through the middle of the 3rd trimester to help this poor girl". Or, "I do not support and will not stand for my taxes going to pay for anything as religious as a Christmas Tree or for a govt official on the payroll saying "Happy Easter" or a privately-funded monument to the 10 Commandments showing anywhere on Courthouse grounds, because that represents an establishment of Religion in the governemnt".

One of those cool moments of clarity that change your life came in my Junior year of college, in American Public Policy class. The point the teacher made is that there is always and inevitably a difference between Policy-as-written and Policy-as-enforced, and that the dichotomy can be deliberately used to shape public behavior to the benefit of everyone involved. The example she used is Texas'/Houston's policy on speeding tickets. Whatever level of govt it was had built a toll road, and people weren't using it enough to pay for itself. So they stopped enforcing the speed limit on the tollroad; people regularly went 80 mph on it. It encouraged people to pay the $3 for the tollroad if they were in a huge hurry, which made the toll road profitable and reduced congestion on the non-toll freeway. But the automatic $3 charge kept enough people off the tollway that going 70 to 80 mph was still relatively safe.

Now, why can't that sort of attitude be adopted toward these issues?

Why can't abortion be absolutely illegal after the 1st trimester, with the understanding that a truly horrible situation will still be handled discreetly, and even if noted, not prosecuted?

Why can't "sodomy" remain illegal, but only used as an add-on charge when involving rape or manipulation of the underaged?

Why can't the use of harder drugs remain illegal, but we stop prosecuting people who are merely 'using', unless they are also engaged in another criminal behavior like robbing a store to get money for their next fix?

Why can't homosexual partners be treated as common-law lifetime relationships for the purposes of inheritance and hospital visitation without altering legal definitions of marriage? Heck, the added advantage there is that they would have to actually act like a married couple to get the rights of common law marriage...which would defuse the conservative argument that "gay marriages" would be used as a license for extreme promiscuity with spousal medical insurance as a safety net.

Maybe these aren't the best examples. There are probably better ones.

My frustration arises from the litigous society we have created, in which common sense can't be applied or else the ACLU will hit you with a discrimination suit and someone gets a $10 million windfall from "punitive" damages designed to re-engineer social attitudes and mores.

Are you happy that we have a society in which Andrea Yates can drown her children and never get a day of prison? In which a woman gets several million dollars for getting a 2nd degree burn from coffee because she slurped too quickly? In which kids get thrown out of school for bringing a 2" long plastic toy rifle to school? In which a 14-year-old can get an abortion without her parents knowing, but not a tattoo? In which a 12-year-old can get free condoms and be encouraged to engage in oral/anal sex to "preserve virginity" (Thanks, Planned Parenthood!) but a 20-year-old can't purchase a beer? In which tipping authorities to illegal immigration is worse than going to the Emergency Room for your child's cold because the parent knows they won't be denied despite not being able to pay?

This best post. ...but that's...okay. Because I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and: Doggone it! People like me.

Anyway, these are the random thoughts I am having as I sit in a Starbuck's constantly being distracted by nice gams and slender waists wending their way toward a Venti Latte with caramel.

Posted by Nathan at 01:49 PM | Comments (2)

You may not consider this your "best" post, but you expressed very clearly almost exactly what I believe and would like to say, if my poor muddled brain allowed me to organize my thoughts in such a clear, concise manner.

And as far as being a litigious society - it's now all about the letter of the law, not the spirit. The lawyers can't make a good enough living from the spirit of the law...

By the way... check out (if you haven't already) if you like to read a good blog about zero tolerance policies in schools.

Posted by: diamond dave at April 22, 2005 02:30 PM

Makes sense to me. But there's always somebody who doesn't want to play nice with the other kids spoiling it for everyone, you know?

Posted by: Deb at April 22, 2005 04:05 PM
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