Recently, I was talking with a New York City cab driver whose passion was baseball. We spoke about a Yankee pitcher and I mentioned that he was quick off the mound and was a good fielder. The cabbie then began a broad evaluation noting his various pitches, windup style, how he worked under pressure, his stamina over numerous innings and which batters were particularly able to hit him. I just listened, amazed at the detail of his knowledge as he came at the pitcher from just about every judgmental angle conceivable.
Would that citizens came at political candidates with such diverse and numerous yardsticks before an election. Instead, many voters have so lowered their expectation levels of candidates for office — if they bother to vote at all — that a type of “tip politics” is becoming a widespread political tactic by the politicians.
Note this excerpt from a Washington Post article on the race for the governorship of Virginia between Attorney General James S. Gilmore III and Lt. Governor, Donald S. Beyer, Jr.:
“As James S. Gilmore III left a news conference at a Washington Hotel yesterday, he was stopped by waitress Liz Asrat of Arlington. ‘Are you the one — the car tax?’ she asked shyly. I’m so happy.”
“I am! That’s me!” exclaimed the Republican candidate for Virginia governor, in shirt-sleeves and a gleeful grin, delighted to know he had won over one more voter.” No wonder the headline of the article was “Car-Tax Cut has GOP’s Gilmore in Driver’s Seat.”
Beyer, whose lead has slipped primarily because of the car tax issue, has wondered aloud how this could be happening to him. His specific issues have focused on education, environment, job training and public safety. Beyer’s attempts to charge that the Gilmore car-tax plan is a fraud, is “unsafe at any speed” and will take $400 million from Virginia colleges over six years have fallen flat.
Why? Because voters don’t believe politicians will follow through on their promises unless they are so specific a bread and butter issue that it would be political suicide for a politician to reneg.
Welcome to “tip politics.” A few years ago, politicians were running, promising to fix the potholes or stop the chaps who clean your windshield at red light stops and demand payment.
It is not that the politics of tipping, of declaring candidacies based on “elect me and I’ll reduce one of your household expenses,” is all bad. After all, what could be worse than a hot air politicians mouthing generalities and never getting pinned down?
But when the major issues of state governance — the corruption of money in politics, corporate welfare, the priorities in the budget, the enforcement of corporate crime and street crime laws, the empowerment of citizens to have access to all three branches of government, and so on — are secondary to tip politics, the concentration and abuses of power remain in a few hands.
Over in New Jersey, the battle between James McGreevey and Governor Christine Whitman is revolving around auto insurance prices — not a minor item in the most expensive state in the Union for auto insurance. But hidden behind the furor over auto insurance is the larger surrender of Governor Whitman to corporate greed across the board and her dismantling of democratic institutions.
For example, this “corporate welfare queen” is floating taxpayer bonds worth about $300 million to build a short tunnel to a proposed, giant gambling casino in Atlantic City — while New Jersey’s schools and health clinics crumble.
One of Governor Whitman’s first acts when she took over the state government was to get rid of the state government’s Watchdog -the Department of Public Advocate. She also tried unsuccessfully to destroy the funding base for the college student group — the pollution-fighting New Jersey Public Interest Research Group.
If citizens would raise their expectations and evaluate broadly and deeply the records of these politicians, just as the New York cab driver does for Yankee pitchers, maybe elections would produce some home runs for the people.