April 11, 2004
is turning into modern-day baseball
SC Statehouse Report
11, 2004 - The signs are everywhere that politics is becoming
- The governor threatened to sue the Legislature led by
his own party after lawmakers overrode his veto on an economic
- 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
- 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.
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
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
Is all of this cynical? Yes. Is it what's happening? Unfortunately,
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.
4/11: Iraq getting its Shiites together
This week's cartoon by our Bill McLemore:
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:
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."
Senate Finance Committee. Hats off to subcommittee
members for restoring funding to the Conservation Bank. Let's
hope it remains in the final bill.
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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