One of the most interesting and important aspects to politics and political science, for myself at least, is political reform. It’s a common topic for all sorts of political observers. Just about nearly everyone — activists, politicians, academics, regular voters, and more — believes that one or more major laws, programs, fundamentals of politics and government, etc. needs to have a major overhaul. I count myself among these people. In fact, I believe that there are many, many things that need to be reformed and amended. It’s one of my biggest passions.
But one of the things about reforms is that it implies something is in serious need of improvement — and there isn’t necessarily agreement that that thing, such as a government program, needs to be fundamentally changed. You’ll usually see a different set of buzzwords based on where somebody stands on an issue. For example, what someone sees as a deeply flawed “welfare” or “government assistance” system may be just fine in the eyes of someone else. Someone who uses the term “welfare” likely thinks such programs are in need of serious revamping. Someone who uses the phrase “government assistance” or something similar might also believe that some sort of reform needs to happen, but probably not as often or to the same degree.
Another key point about reforms: Those proposing a given reform not only imply or explicitly state that it is the solution to the problem — or at least something that would mitigate a lot of the issue — but that their proposal is a net-positive at all. What if somebody disagrees and thinks it would only make things worse? The word “reform” inherently implies that the proposal is helpful, but that isn’t a guarantee. There have been plenty of instances in American history — and the history of countries throughout the world — where a supposed reform unintentionally made matters worse, at least for a certain segment or segments of the population. (Sometimes, making something worse for a given group of people was a deliberate intention of a “reform.”) Yet even then, there may be disagreement on whether a reform was beneficial or more problematic.
We must also consider that a reform doesn’t have to be proposed for something that is fundamentally broken. Sometimes, the reform can be for some law, program, or policy that isn’t a mess but simply has a lot of room for improvement — and virtually everything that deals with human behavior can be made better. Still, that goes back to personal perspective. What do we consider “broken” or “fine but can use some improvement?”
This is partly why we often see a whole bunch of different proposals to a given problem. People can come at an issue from all sorts of different angles. Even when there is widespread agreement that some sort of policy needs to have an overhaul, there can be a lot of disagreement on what to actually do about it. Public policy has so many facets to consider that it is rarely ever a straightforward process. For example, many different proposals for police reform have been put forth (and in some cases implemented) in the wake of protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. These have included defunding the police, overhauling the training that police receive when dealing with citizens, having citizens on watch in their neighborhoods, bringing social workers with police officers when the latter respond to certain 9–1–1 calls, and banning specific types of restraints officers use. Which of these is right, if any? Or are there several of these proposals that should be implemented? Is it something else that hasn’t been listed? And how exactly do we implement them? As usual, it depends on who you ask.
“Reform” also tends to imply some wide-scale, far-reaching overhaul of a policy, program, or law, but there are all sorts of smaller-scale changes in government that aren’t necessarily called reforms. For example, just about every president in U.S. history has made demonstrable changes to how the rest of the executive branch works, such as how bureaucracy functions or how to enforce certain laws. They may not be labeled “reforms” and they might not get a lot of buzz in the news, but they arguably count for this discussion.
As usual in my writings, my aim here is to include my personal opinion as little as possible, preferably not at all. The hope is to present various reform proposals in as fair and balanced a light as I can. Of course, lots of people will claim they are being balanced or that something is a fact when it isn’t. However, it is my hope that readers trust me, based on my previous posts, to try to be as impartial as possible. The point is to bring awareness to an issue, discuss what some proposals are and what arguments have been made for and against them, and/or to shed more light on the process of how these reforms come about and the inner workings of public policy.
Below will be the list of each installment of the “Political Reform Debates and Proposals” series and a link to each. The list will be updated as soon as possible after each post is published.
#1 — Date TBD — Term Limits