These are the remarks of Peter Reichard, outgoing president of the Governmental Research Association, presented at our annual conference in Detroit in the form of a dream.
While out walking the other night, I came upon a gray, severe building. Over the doorway were the words, “Asylum for the Politically Deranged.”
A white-coated doctor appeared at the door. “Good evening,” he said. “Would you like to tour our facility?”
I followed him down a long hallway. In the first room patients were gazing out the windows. I could hear them mumbling, “It works in Portland” and “It works in Scandinavia.”
“This is Best Practice Syndrome,” the doctor said. “These patients have a tendency to pick a place they admire and assume its practices are ‘best’ and fully transferable anywhere else. They also have a tendency to call trendy new government programs ‘best practices,’ even though they’re untested.”
In one corner a patient had his eyes closed, and he kept bumping into a wall. The doctor motioned to him, saying: “That fellow suffers from a particular complication — blindness to unintended consequences.”
In another corner, a group of patients huddled together. “That’s Conventional Wisdomania,” the doctor said. “It’s characterized by a herd mentality, an inability to think outside the mainstream and an enslavement to the zeitgeist.”
The patients in the next room were playing with Legos. “These are our Empire-Building Disorder patients,” the doctor said. “They believe that the solution to the dysfunctions of any agency or program is to make it bigger. They’re particularly fond of creating special-purpose executive positions.”
Suddenly, a patient appeared, kicking a can down the hallway. He crashed into the doctor. The doctor helped him up, saying, “This unfortunate chap has no consciousness of the future. He believes future generations should pay for benefits that public employees and citizens enjoy today.”
We stepped into another room, where a group of patients sat staring up at a blank wall. “These poor souls suffer from Newsitis,” the doctor said. “They live under the delusion that the topics discussed on cable news networks are actually important. Symptoms include an addiction to drama and an inability to remember anything that happened more than 24 hours ago.”
Across the room was a cluster of agitated patients. “Here’s a group with similar issues,” the doctor said. “They’re political junkies. The main symptoms are a rapid loss of IQ and an inability to stop discussing politics. They often feel compelled to share their ravings on social media.”
In a room down the hall, patients began yelling at each other. As I stepped into the doorway, I saw one patient flip a chess game in disgust, the pieces flying across the room. “Here we have our Partisanship Disorder group,” the doctor said. “Their condition is characterized by hero worship, gullibility and a tendency to switch sides on an issue based on which party supports it at a given time. They are obsessed with defeating political opponents and have a strong aversion to actually solving problems.”
One patient was using vulgarities. “This is a rapidly emerging phenomenon,” the doctor said. “Such patients seem to believe that bringing public discourse to new lows will somehow advance their cause. We believe the main vector for this disease is Twitter.”
Then the doctor showed me to the window of a padded room. I peered through the window and saw patients trying to shout each other down. “We can’t get through to this group,” the doctor said. “They can’t stop speaking in jargon.”
“What’s wrong with them?” I asked.
“They suffer from Ideological Psychosis,” he replied, and rattled off the symptoms: “A lust for power. A tendency to cherry-pick statistics. A belief that slogans are sufficient to address complex governmental systems. Often, they embrace ideas that are disconnected from reality. And they’re gripped by an ambition to impose those ideas on others. They have no interest in history. But if you look at their history — well, when in power they have a terrible track record.”
As the noise in the room grew louder, I wondered if the door was strong enough to hold these patients. I turned and trotted as fast as I could back out onto the street.
Then I woke up in a cold sweat.
Our thanks, Peter, for your love of public policy and your public service to us and the think tanks you lead. You are loved.2018 GRA Conference