April 13, 2006

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if we changed the rules of politics? While that likely will never happen, I’d settle for some adjustments in campaigning and public relations. Of course, that is even less likely to be seen in my lifetime.

What’s he talking about? Well, as I tried to sort through my full in-box of e-mail, I noticed a disturbing pattern in correspondence I was getting from candidates for office, public officials and political parties. It seems like all we want to do is point out what is wrong with our world. No one wants to offer any ideas for how to fix our problems, they just want to blame the other guy for doing a bad job.

I hate to name names, but I hate even more to lump all these folks into the same pot to be cooked by this editorial. So I’ll try to drive down the middle of the road and be as fair to all as possible, picking out examples from both sides of the aisle even though you all know which side I sit on.

The message that sent me down this road came from Claire McCaskill’s office.

McCaskill, the failed candidate for Missouri Governor in 2004, is now seeking to unseat Republican Jim Janet from his United States Senate seat.

Her office sent me a “comment” on the planned visit of President George Bush, who along with Sen. Talent, will be in Jefferson City to highlight the federal Medicare Part D prescription drug plan.

The statement from McCaskill was:

“Sadly, Jim Talent gave into the big drug company lobbyists instead of listening to Missouri seniors when he voted for this disastrous Medicare Part D. He now thinks standing on a stage with the President will make him look strong, but Missouri seniors won’t be fooled. Missourians need a senator who has the independence to put the needs of our seniors before the profits of the big drug companies.”

I understand this is campaign rhetoric, but it still sends steam out my ears. We all know the Medicare drug plan has its issues. What I hate is how politicians latch onto political gaffs and bandy them about trying to enflame voters against the opposition. Folks, we have to be wiser than that. We can’t allow our disillusionment with a particular plan or program to be the fuel for our decision making. Sure it can be the motivation for us to consider other candidates, but let’s not let them pull the wool over our eyes.

If a politician wishes to use the mistakes of another for their own gain, let’s force them at least to offer an alternative solution to the issue. That’s all I’m asking. It makes me mad when all they do is try to get people fired up enough about the problem to overlook the fact that they themselves have offered no solution, except replacing the decision maker. That’s sort of like tearing out the engine in your car when it isn’t running and replacing it with a new one. Sure you have something that will make the car run, but you may have tossed away a perfectly good motor to replace it with a new one that may not do the job any better.

At the same time, we shouldn’t allow our approval of acts that politicians can attach their names to, to be the sole reason we keep them in office. I’m referring to all of the opportunities officials have to “announce” that a certain group of constituents has been approved for a grant, or federal disaster aid, or whatever other “good news” they can hijack and try to appear responsible for.

For example here’s the first sentence of a press release I received a few weeks ago:

“U.S. Senators Jim Talent and Kit Bond, Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson and Governor Matt Blunt today announced that President Bush has approved the Governor’s request for a federal disaster declaration for affected Missouri counties after severe storms and tornadoes…”

While I’m sure each of these folks was in favor of this action, I have to question how instrumental they were in securing the aid, or if they simply didn’t take the opportunity to announce the action taken by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Maybe I’m just a skeptic, or possibly I’m too hard on the system. Still, I would love to clear away all of this peripheral junk and just get down to the business at hand of fixing what is wrong and securing what is right. If all you want to do is borrow the credit for good news, or blame the other guy for the bad news, then don’t count on my vote.

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