April 1, 2012

The 85 Percent Survival Rate

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On March 27, I blogged about how political commentaries of the Trayvon Martin case and the shootings in Toulouse, France both represented the sort of public distractions incumbent politicians use to shield themselves from accountability. Of course, none of this is anything new – this ironic phenomenon whereby status quo incumbents benefit despite the momentary visibility of tragic social realities.

The long-term tendencies of our democracy might best be characterized as a Freudian death wish. Despite Congress’s notoriously abysmal reputation in recent public opinion polling (a 12% approval rating recently), American voters have hardly done much of anything to change direction. The reelection rate of our members of Congress has not dropped below 85% since 1964, while the Senate reelection rate hasn’t dipped below 75% since the “Reagan Revolution” of 1980. (check it out: http://www.opensecrets.org/bigpicture/reelect.php)

Reading these re-election statistics should serve as comedy in the context of recent polls showing Americans’ disdain for the country’s “wrong direction” amid levels of partisanship supposedly at an all-time high.

We’ve heard emotional cries from the left about Republican attempts to cut birth control subsidies, but little fuss has been made over why in fact birth control is considered a public health issue in the first place. The evidence suggests that it’s a public health issue not because of health risks associated with birth control, but because the medical community refuses to change birth control’s designation from prescription-only to over-the-counter. According to an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health in 1993: ‘more is known about the safety of oral contraceptives than has been known about any other drug in the history of medicine,’. Unsurprisingly, an article in the same 1993 issue argued for over-the-counter sales.

More about that here: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-03-09/take-birth-control-battle-over-the-counter-commentary-by-virginia-postrel.html

Amidst all of the histrionics surrounding a cut to birth control subsidies or a supposed “war against women”, there is barely any space to think reasonably about the matter. The evidence suggests that it’s hard to justify long-standing restrictions of birth control and that a real war on women is the misguided attempt to protect women from themselves.

Singling out the left for this sort of behavior is not my intention. Instead, it is worth noting that current political discourse drowns out the hard conversations about public policy we should be having. Public policy debates pretend to be serious, while instead ratcheting up emotions in the interest only of populist electioneering. With the consequences of policy obscured from view, political discourse is stuck on matters of intention. Instead of serious solutions, we get cheap-shots.

We will hear solutions from both of the major parties about fixing that one aspect of American politics that’s gone astray or about how much things are changing.

Yet from within all of this circus noise, one would never suspect that no more than 15% of the Congress has departed after an election in the last 50 years.

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Original Author: Jacob Arluck