The Washington Monument Syndrome
Give `em the Hook
Every several years enough stuff accumulates in the public sector that one just has to stand up and shout “GIVE ‘EM THE HOOK!!!!” We all know the events that fit the profile. They are the ones that are so outlandish, so stupid, so insulting, so beyond the pale that they cry out for justice.
And so, with your permission, let me run off at the keyboard with just a very small sample of the outrages of the last several months.
The modern version is a direct clone of the original that dates back to the Reconstruction Era of American politics. Ah, Reconstruction!! This was those fun-filled times when newly victorious Northemers packed up and went South to help those recalcitrant Rebels reintegrate with the Union.
The new era was kicked off in New York when Bobby Kennedy ran for the seat being vacated by John Keating, a long-enduring Republican. Bobby Kennedy had not stepped foot in New York for more than 24 hours in his life except to transfer planes to or from Idlewild Airport. Yes, there was an airport on Long Island before they renamed it for his brother. But he was willing to put himself before the voters as the representative of New York. Hell, he couldn’t even speak the language!! But alas, money is the universal language of politics; and if his father could buy the presidency for his brother, why couldn’t he buy the junior senator seat for himself. After all, the cost was only a fraction of a national campaign.
Now we leapfrog to the current era, and alas again we have someone who has stuffed her traveling garb into the proverbial carpetbag and moved in on an unsuspecting electorate. This time it is the first lady going to New York. She at least had shopped at Bergdorf’s before she got the call from above to serve these lost lambs in New York. She certainly can speak the language, though one must wonder if she is capable of hearing the constituents. In New York the local call is the raspberry, whereas in her more familiar environs she is more used to hearing the dulcet tones of “yaaaaaa sooooooooooooooey!!” of Arkansas Razorback fans. That is enough of a cultural split to break up anyone’s psyche.
Amusing ironies abound in this campaign. Mayor Guliani campaigns on the conservative mantra of family values. No doubt he is seeking to avoid a direct mudslinging contest. At first, we believe this is because he has more class than that and is above the fray. Our hopes for an uplifting fight on the issues are hopelessly dashed when we find that he is keeping company with a woman who is not his wife. This occurs after we have the announcement of his illness. Then, he drops out of the race entirely in favor of the only person left in New York with less knowledge of local issues than Hillary Clinton, an obscure politician from Long Island named Lazio. (And Cuomo dropped out of the presidential race because he was afraid of a trailing vowel!)
And is Grimaldi the only one wondering how the Clintons with an income of a meagre $250,000 over the last eight years and who are now very soon to be unemployed qualified for a mortgage on a $1.3 million dollar home??? I guess the underwriting standards are much more lax the higher you go. On that basis, maybe Grimaldi can qualify for that $4.5 million home on the ocean he has been eyeing. I guess that means that his legal bills have all been miraculously paid off. Isn’t there some kind of ethics issue on employment after government service, or did we miss the repeal of that? And then Grimaldi just read that Hillary is paying taxes in Arkansas because they are cheaper there. Am I missing something, or is there a supreme irony in facing the voters in one state while paying taxes in another?
I guess I am just old fashioned. I thought that if you wanted to stand before the voters for a statewide office that you would have to be able to demonstrate that you had done something for the electorate to warrant them expending their precious vote for you. Of course, that has been no impediment for the Bush brothers in Texas or Florida. But that is fodder for another day. And the long list of contributions to the betterment of New York at the hands of Hillary Rodham Clinton begins with what? “Pat, can I buy a vowel?” And yes, Regis, that is my final answer!!
I don’t care if Gore is elected president. It is time to dump this metaphor for cost savings. First of all it is too reminiscent of the $768 hammer of DOD procurement fame. So it fails the first test of a marketing symbol–it is totally lacking in positive image!!! The metaphor of breaking up bad practices is so hackneyed to be a cliche of a cliche. But wait!! Isn’t that precisely Al Gore’s problem? He is a caricature of a politician without the personality.
If the Democratic candidate wants to save money, he should stop promising ever more costly and expansive programs to every constituency he speaks to in hopes of getting a few more votes. Whatever happened to having principles and standing for something? What happened to the notion of running on a platform of strongly-held convictions that the people could vote up or down on. At least that way if one lost, one knew that his/her ideas had been rejected. Modern campaigns only resolve that the shorter, less TV-genic candidate lost.
Whatever happened to good ol’ hard cash? Coin of the realm? Good as gold? Have we fallen as a great nation so far that we can only muster some weak, soft money to fuel our campaigns? Give ’em the hook!! In fact, let’s get all the money out of the campaigns.
Do we really want to have worry about a Ross Perot buying elective office out of his private, petty cash fund? Why not make the national media who use a public resource–the airwaves–give up some time so that the public can see their candidates without the taint of money determining how much of one we see? Can’t we take the almighty soft dollar out of this aspect of American life?
One of the major contributors to the Clinton campaign said during the Thompson hearings on campaign finance, “Of course, I expect that when I give $100,000, when I call up I expect to get at least a cabinet secretary. Why else would I fork over such money?” Surely, even the most jaded of political operatives must see that there is not a freedom of speech argument to be had here. Is the mighty Supreme Court the only entity left in America that hasn’t figured that out besides the NRA?
And what about the upstart candidate in New Jersey running against a former governor and congressman, Jim Florio? His claim to fame is that as the former chairman of Goldman Sachs, John Corzine is too rich to be beholden to the monied interests. This is the actual caption on billboards he has up all over the state. Doesn’t he have it backwards? Isn’t he THE MONIED INTERESTS himself? He is pouring upwards of $24 million into a single state race that is dominated by two media markets not more than three hours apart. When was the last time he had to cut the grass or wait in a self-serve line to fill the tank on the family car? He has as much in common with his would-be constituents as Jane Fonda does with Vietnam War Veterans. Does that mean she will run for national office soon?
OK, let’s fess up. Is management training good for much more than filling up the resume? Does anyone come back changed from the experience? My sense is that every management style accomplishes something. Think about it. Does any manager–no matter how bad–get absolutely nothing done?? No. Even the worst manager goes to the normal management training and listens halfheartedly until s/he hears the one thing s/he think s/he does well. They shut down quickly lest they hear other things that they do that are deemed to be bad. They then return to the office wholly convinced that they have been validated in their ineptness. Let’s give it the hook!!
Would any diatribe like this be complete without a swipe at the special assistants and staff aides who are appointed without merit competition (or any merit at all)??? Yes, Grimaldi knows the old saw about how will campaigns get anyone to stuff the envelopes during election campaigns if there is not some job at the end of the line. But it seems to me that the odds of getting a job of meaning are only slightly worse than the odds of short, fat suburban kids making the NBA without a college education. People are drawn to campaigns for the same reason that candidates are–the rush of being close to something that passes for famous these days and the possibility of observing real power. That is its own compensation. Why clutter the scene with some mindless job that only gets in the way of the real work of government? And if we could only harness some of that perceived power in such a way as would power our cars and SUVs we would be powerful indeed.
This topic is its own hook. Hopefully, by the time readers get this issue of The Public Manager, this little munchkin and his father are happily back in Cuba doing whatever one does there. How did this episode capture so much of the public’s attention? It must have been a very slow news day.
And what about that fisherman guy? Who the hell is he? Is Grimaldi the only one who suspects that this guy has bashed more than his fair share of boat people complaining about these “wetbacks” or other epithet to denote interlopers in our country? And who is paying the bill for his stay at the Wye Plantation? The CIA? Castro? Maybe it is the NRA for whom the INS guy, whose picture was broadcast across every paper and TV in America in his riot gear and automatic weapon, has become the poster boy for that fine, upstanding organization. After all, it is the M-1 fully automatic rifle that has made America safe from the likes of Elian anyway.
Regis Philbin and Kathy Lee Gifford
Yes, this is my final answer! And Grimaldi still has three lifelines left!
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COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning