PolitiCS vs. PoliCY: What's the difference and why it matters.

Straight Talk Series, Part I

SO much talk of late about elections, confirmations and campaigns.

In these conversations with neighbors, coworkers and friends, we are using words that mean different things to different people, often with less-than-ideal outcomes.

In my quest for a more perfect Union, I wanted to offer to hit the pause button and offer some insight into the terms we use and what they might actually mean.

Years ago, I heard Dr. Jim Lengle of Georgetown University define politics as "who gets what, when and how much".

Think about that.  Politics are everywhere: in workplaces, house of worship, families.  Who gets what, when and how much is determined by many factors, every day, everywhere.  Think about it: Was that colleague who got the promotion the best qualified?  Did the homeowners association approve a proposal you opposed?  Who sat where at your cousin's wedding?

So, when "talking politics" let's agree on our terms.  Politics is not the same as policy.

Policy is what a government decides to do, or not do.  Every level of government makes the rules for living, working and paying in that space.  Those decisions are the policies.  Yes, politics plays a role in what the policy becomes, but they are not the same thing.

Public officials can be elected, or appointed to their office.  If their name appears on a ballot, that is elected office, at any level.  If their name is not on a ballot, they serve in appointed office, at the pleasure of the person who appointed them.  An example of this would be Mayor Emanuel (elected) and the Fire Chief (appointed).  Both serve the public in different roles, and both positions are at the discretion of the people who got them there.

When talking about policy, keep in mind that every decision made comes from a different layer of government.  Understanding which agency, board or chamber was responsible for a policy can confuse even the most attentive resident.

Who could forget last year's soda tax debacle?  That policy came from the Cook County Board.  If you have a passport, thank the U.S. Department of State.  How about your driver's license?  That's the state of Illinois.  Again, policy areas overseen and regulated by different government agencies.

The foundation of our democratic republic is an educated and engaged citizenry.  It is the obligation of each one of us to learn about the issues and solutions, and the people who are, or want to, make the rules that we must live by.

Take just five minutes each day to understand one issue or person better.  In the time it takes you to download an app, dry your hair or heat up dinner, you can make an informed decision, which in turn creates the change you seek.

Now that you now feel more confident about defending your position at any social gathering, dig in!  Election Day is four weeks from tomorrow.

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