Politics & Policy

Getting Our Attention

We avert our eyes while the government makes decisions that change our lives.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column is available exclusively through United Media. For permission to reprint or excerpt this copyrighted material, please contact Carmen Puello at cpuello@unitedmedia.com.

If you go to any restaurant in any major city, you’ll see the same thing: Americans with short attention spans. We — I’m as guilty as anyone — have trouble fully interacting with the person across from us, never mind the dozens if not hundreds of messages coming into our electronic communications devices during a given dinner.

The same problem of short attention spans is obvious in our politics and public policy. In fact, it might even be worse. We all collectively try to focus on one thing or another — usually determined by the White House, the party in power, and the media (I choose to be doubly redundant). But it’s hard to follow even one debate: How many Americans actually know what’s going on with the health-care bill? How many in Washington, even? And so, a great deal falls by the wayside — not that any given item won’t become law; it just might never really register with the American people, or even with some of the policy watchdogs.

#ad#Katherine Bradley has just joined the Heritage Foundation after twelve years working in the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill and two years in the George W. Bush administration. She knows the good and the harm that a congressional vote on a policy issue can do. And so, with co-writers Jennifer Marshall and Chuck Donovan, she has now highlighted in two papers — one last spring and the second this month — two dozen items, most of which are probably off most Americans’ radar screens: policies that “show a serious disregard for parental rights, human dignity, freedom of conscience, and civil society in American life.”

Did you know, for instance, that “within his first two years in office, President Obama will have increased spending on means-tested programs for the poor by 30 percent, and over the next decade he will spend $10.3 trillion on welfare programs alone”? If you’re ready to excuse that in a poor economy, consider that “government-sponsored welfare programs do little to actually help move families from a position of dependence to self-sufficiency,” as Bradley and Donovan explain. “Of the 72 existing welfare programs, only one — Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) — has been reformed to help move 2.6 million families off welfare and into real jobs.”

Did you know that there is no abstinence education in the president’s 2010 budget? Maybe not. The megaphones on this issue tend to be whipped out only when Republicans who are liable to fund it are in office. But the issue matters: Kids who wait tend to do better academically, and are less likely to be depressed, live in poverty, or become parents before they’re married.

Did you know that the House of Representatives is on the road to passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) of 2009? The legislation — which also passed in the House in 2007, but died in the Senate — would prohibit discrimination in hiring decisions on the basis of “actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.” And did you know this? Every state that has given a green light to same-sex marriage has done so only after adopting an ENDA-like law. In Vermont and Massachusetts, along with five other states, versions of ENDA have been the basis of court decisions that have struck a blow to actual marriage.

Among the most heartbreakingly incomprehensible decisions of the current administration has been to end the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. Parents of children in the program report that their children’s lives were transformed by the chance to be in schools where teachers and administrators care whether or not they learn. And that’s the opinion not just of the grateful parents of children who were able to escape failing public schools in the nation’s capital. The U.S. Department of Education found a significant increase in reading scores among the kids in this program, in comparison to their public-school counterparts.

And then there is the hot-button, life-and-death issue of abortion. Currently, as Bradley and Donovan point out, there are 8 million federal employees who receive health care through the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program. “There are over 250 different health insurance carriers in FEHB, all of whom are prohibited from paying for elective abortions in these plans because they receive subsidies from the government.” If the abortion groups that have generously funded the campaigns of the president’s party have their say, that could change. And it would be a significant change in policy — no longer erring on the side of life when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars.

The point of lists like these is not to depress the reader. In some ways, it’s just the opposite: If people can be seduced into giving some of these questions a second look, they might just be willing to consider the evidence of which policies really work.

– Copyright 2009, Kathryn Jean Lopez. Distributed by Newspaper Enterprise Association.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

John Brennan’s Bad Behavior

My Bloomberg View colleague Eli Lake is right about this: "[W]hen Brennan uses his authority as a former CIA director to launch flimsy attacks on the president's legitimacy, he validates Trump's claim that the intelligence agencies are biased against him." Over the last two years the president's critics have ... Read More
White House

Bill Clinton Redux

Stormy Daniels could have stepped right out of the 1990s. She would have been a natural in a Bill Clinton scandal, and, in fact, all the same means would have been used against her. Donald Trump’s tactics in these cases are almost indistinguishable from the Clintons’. The effort to shut down the ... Read More
Politics & Policy

California’s Pro-Nuclear Renegade

If California’s upcoming gubernatorial race gets decided solely by money, Michael Shellenberger doesn’t have a chance. The latest campaign filings show that Shellenberger, an environmentalist from Berkeley, has about $37,000 in cash on hand. The frontrunner in the June 5 California primary, Lieutenant ... Read More

Encouraging Signs in Iraq

Last year, relations between the Iraqi central government and the Kurds reached what was possibly an all-time low when the Kurds held an independence referendum in which 93 percent of voters opted to secede. The timing was no coincidence: Iraqi forces had retreated from Kurdish territory in 2014 as the Islamic ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Do Not Congratulate

Do you want some good news out of the gargantuan budget bill now making its way through Congress? Buried among the mountains of pork and assorted unmentionables, there is one random provision I really like. It requires the Congressional Research Service -- which does a huge amount of very valuable policy research ... Read More
Film & TV

Superannuated ‘Idol’

In the pilot episode of Fox’s American Idol, Simon Cowell defined the show’s thesis: “We are going to tell people who cannot sing and have no talent that they have no talent. And that never makes you popular.” The show’s producers and its three judges -- Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson -- kept ... Read More