S.C. Statehouse Report
April 11, 2004
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/04.0411.baseball.htm


COMMENTARY
How politics is turning into modern-day baseball
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

APRIL 11, 2004 - The signs are everywhere that politics is becoming more meaningless:

  • The governor threatened to sue the Legislature led by his own party after lawmakers overrode his veto on an economic development bill.

  • A GOP lawmaker secretly taped a Republican meeting between lawmakers and the governor and gave the tape to a newspaper, which published everything that they wanted to keep secret.

  • The Senate has filibustered a seatbelt bill, off and on, for eight weeks, apparently demonstrating that senators really don't want to do much of anything in an election year.

  • A House Democrat filed for re-election secretly as a Republican and publicly as a Democrat - - before yanking the latter filing at the last minute to secure a place on the ballot with no opposition. Now he's being sued.

  • Democrats got zillions of dollars of publicity in South Carolina from the presidential primary in February, but by the end of the following month couldn't muster a vigorous field of candidates for House and Senate elections.

  • About two out of every three House seats are uncontested in the November elections.
   

ALSO THIS WEEK

McLEMORE'S WORLD: Iraq getting its Shiites together

FEEDBACK: Evenhanded column

SCORECARD: Winners and losers of the past week

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The list goes on and on. Everybody's at everybody else's throats and little is getting done that really counts. Washington's brand of winning-at-all-cost politics has infected the Statehouse.

The same kind of thing happened to baseball when league play waned in favor of free agents who went to the team that could pay them the most. In 1976, the last year before free agents entered the baseball market, the average baseball salary was $51,000, according to USA Today columnist Hal Bodley. Now, salaries average - - yes average - - more than $2 million per year.

Bottom line: Major-league baseball changed from a system that valued team play and the morals of setting good examples for kids to a system that remunerated individual accomplishment at the expense of everything else.

That's what South Carolina politics has turned into. While differences always have existed between Republicans and Democrats, politics has shifted from doing what was good for the state to doing what is politically expedient. In other words, politicians these days seem more interested in reelection and retaining power than standing up for what's right.

Just look at what's happened this year at the Statehouse. In three months, lawmakers have patched the state's budget, not been real leaders to fix problems. In three months, they've really done little to deal with long-term solutions on education, the government's structure, duplication and the like. Instead, they've made excuses to do it later.

University of South Carolina political scientist Blease Graham said politicians of yesterday operated government under the theory of market failure - - that the market just couldn't do a good job on providing some services, such as public education or parks. Instead, government needed to provide those services for the public good. While there were political differences in service delivery among partisans, most people generally agreed with government's role.

But over the last couple of decades, the theory of market failure has been replaced by a theory of government failure - - that the market, not government, is best suited to delivering government services. That's why there's a big push for using business practices - - efficiencies, cost/benefit analyses and the like - - as the backbone of government, Graham says.

"Just like free agency turned league play into boardroom play, the current theory of government failure turns government decisions into private boardroom decisions," he added. "Not even Adam Smith argued for a total collapse of government."

In the long run, running government only as a business leads to deadlocks and a slow dismantling of the state's government apparatus. Instead of government providing services for the public good with shared costs among all taxpayers, things move toward fee-based services. And, it leads to milquetoast politicians more interested in their hides than what's best for people.

Is all of this cynical? Yes. Is it what's happening? Unfortunately, slowly, yes.

Only when public complacency of letting political leaders get away with doing little transforms into frustration will there be a change. Only when people start requiring leaders to have the courage to lead will balance be restored to how government operates in the public interest.

Years ago, John F. Kennedy (and a ghostwriter) wrote "Profiles in Courage" as a testimonial to politicians who stood up for people.

"I'm not sure you'd have a book [called] 'Profiles in Courage' in contemporary South Carolina," Graham noted.


McLEMORE'S WORLD
4/11: Iraq getting its Shiites together

This week's cartoon by our Bill McLemore:


FEEDBACK

4/7: Evenhanded column

To the editor:

Nice job on the filibuster piece (Column, 4/4). I found it pretty evenhanded and interesting. While you confess to support the seatbelt bill, you did so in an open manner with no surprises. Wow, that's what journalism used to be!!

-- Chris Sosnowski, Charleston


SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political events from the past week:

Thumbs up

Rep. Dan Tripp. Gov. Mark Sanford and some others might not like that Tripp reportedly taped the Republican House caucus meeting, but lovers of free speech and a free press rejoiced. Sanford, however, fumed and called Tripp "unethical." More: Post and Courier.

Senate Finance Committee. Hats off to subcommittee members for restoring funding to the Conservation Bank. Let's hope it remains in the final bill.

Thumbs down

Bauer. The lieutenant governor shows he's still headstrong by breaking city restoration codes in Charleston. His name must be "Do it my way" Andre.


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