Ronald Reagan's America - Vol. 1

By Eric J. Schmertz; Natalie Datlof et al. | Go to book overview

12 Hazardous Waste Policy, the Reagan Revolution, and the "Democratic Deficit" in America

Robert F. Durant

In examining the linkage between public opinion and defense policy, political scientist Larry Bartel bemoans what he terms the "minuet of democratic illusion." 1 Politicians, he avers, "get political rewards for actions rather than (or, at least, in addition to) outcomes. . . ." Perhaps nowhere are the opportunities for this minuet more endless, alluring, or distressing in outcome than in what Terry M. Moe terms the pitched battle for congressional versus presidential control of bureaucratic discretion. 2 Nowhere, as well, were these tensions and dysfunctions more prevalent during the Reagan years than in the field of hazardous waste policy.

In an era of divided government, the Reagan administration labored contentiously with Congress and the courts to "deregulate, defund, and devolve" to the states the environmental protection legacy bequeathed to Reagan by his predecessors in this policy arena. 3 Instead, and quite ironically, the administration got "reregulation, refunding, and recentralization" of authority within Washington. Meanwhile, the Congress pursued policy accomplishment through bureaucratic control and instead got the diminishment of both control and accomplishment. And in the process, both Congress and the President debased public deliberation over this complex, costly, and ill-understood arena of public policy.

The consequence of this "minuet" is what Crozier, Huntington, and Watanuka call "anomic democracy." 4 More precisely, government authority suffers an erosion in respect and legitimacy as the public clamors for government redress in an era of fundamental macroeconomic and social-structural changes. Redress, however, is perceived by citizens as stymied by uncompromising single-issue groups and their political and bureaucratic patrons, actors animated by particularistic (i.e., parochial) rather than majoritarian interests.

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