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Counter-Reform

An American Lesson: Counter-Reform Can Shape Public Opinion

Sina Odugbemi's picture

What might be the generalizable lessons of the recent mid-term elections in the United States? There are several that this blog would be interested in. The one that I would like to draw attention to today is the fact that despite the huge reform bills that Democrats successfully passed - the biggest being the health care reform bill - it seems clear that they lost the battle for public opinion, and that losing that battle did not help them on election day, whatever else shaped voter preferences on that day.  Reformers everywhere need to reflect on that experience very carefully.

When reforms fail what is often blamed is 'lack of political will'; in other words, not enough leaders in leadership positions in the specific country context supported the proposed reform and it failed. Suppose you secure political will, as in this case, and the reform succeeds, is it game-over? Clearly not. To quote Robert  O. Varenik of the Open Society Justice Initiative (at the end of a  review of a series of pretrial detention reform experiences from around the world): "The acid test of reform should not be what can be attained but what can be sustained."