Starting over in policy — by denying better ways already there?

Eudora Welty, American author, wrote a short story where “bluejays lighted on the rail,” which prompted one reader to reply: “Dear Madam, I enjoyed your stories, but bluejays do not sit on railroad tracks.” On further reflection, Welty conceded that this too had been her own experience. Yet there the bluejays still sit in the Library of America’s definitive edition of Welty’s work.

That’s the view from the inside out; there is also outside-in. We know through photographs that when Picasso was painting Guernica, he had a powerful image of a clenched fist raised high. That image, however, was painted away under what we see today.

To bring to light all these present-but-absent bluejays and absent-but-present clenched fists parallels the challenge of identifying what’s missing in major policy arguments. Clenched fists matter now more than ever, here; rail tracks forever without bluejays is precisely what matters, there.

Yes, of course, this bringing to light is difficult, but less so than being in the dark might suggest. “Things shine more brightly to an observer who is in the dark,” conceded Diderot, the French Enlightener. A blank canvas, according to visual artist Gérard Fromanger, is ‘‘black with everything every painter has painted before me’’.

How different from the reactions of those confronting opaque policy. Let’s sweep the table clear, wipe the slate clean! As if it’s best to start over by missing what is already there, in that way only.

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