Political debate on steroids strikes out

“Many, it is clear, do not want good information whenever it comes to them, especially if they don’t want to like the source.”

Mike Owen
Mike Owen

The yellowed copy of The Des Moines Register from April 5, 1974, is one of my treasures.

First Time at Bat—Aaron Ties Ruth’s Record” the paper exclaims, beneath a banner headline in all caps: “PUBLIC BARGAINING BILL IS VOTED.”

Truth to tell, I kept the paper because of the Hank Aaron story. Little did I realize that, 37 years later, I’d see a connection between that story and the one trumpeted above it — how times have changed. Then, you didn’t have to worry about whether home-run kings were on steroids, let alone political discussions. Now, both are suspect.

The Iowa Policy Project has worked hard to correct the latter, and today put out an important report that knocks down myths about public employee pay and benefits. These myths feed political narratives that are built on foundations of polling data, marketing and talking points, with facts entering the discussion only where convenient. They defy a more honest approach, of gathering facts and then making a determination of what they show.

The 1974 Register story about the bargaining debate is interesting. It shows a bipartisan decision under a Legislature and Governor of one-party control — Republican — agreeing on a public-employee bargaining system that has stood the test of time. Neither side on a bargaining table really liked it then or now, but it reflected some sense of balance. Now, it is being challenged, and thrown into the mix of the discussion is the public employee pay mythology.

Where is the balance we could find four decades ago? Too many in politics today want their thumb on the scale, and too many are used to seeing it — so much that good research starts out tainted, just like a clean 420-foot home run may be. IPP’s report by Andrew Cannon today is an example; show people the data, and some will dismiss it without reading it because the headline doesn’t fit the world view they’ve bought into.

One commenter on the Register’s website today — didn’t have that 37 years ago — asked why a nonpartisan group would put out a study to coincide with a rally on labor rights at the Iowa Capitol — this of course would make it clearly suspect.

Of course, it also is most timely when people are talking about these issues, and when some are busy spreading bad information. Or, maybe we should have waited until after new laws were passed based on bad information. Many, it is clear, do not want good information whenever it comes to them, especially if they don’t want to like the source.

Posted by Mike Owen, Assistant Director

Author: iowapolicypoints

The Iowa Policy Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that provides research and analysis to engage Iowans in state policy decisions. We focus on tax and busget issues, the Iowa economy, and energy and environmental policy. By providing a foundation of fact-based, objective research and engaging the public in an informed discussion of policy alternatives, IPP advances effective, accountable and fair government.

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