My first column for this semester is out in the Diamondback, and it’s less environmental and more about the need for elected officials to take greater risks to solve problems, and the need for voters to tolerate those risks. Enjoy!
Slinging it: A political necessity
By Matt Dernoga
I wrote a farewell column in May to my readers (mom, girlfriend, livid tea partiers). But now I’m enrolled in graduate school and writing for another semester. A friend told me that by writing a farewell column and then un-retiring, I was following in the footsteps of NFL quarterback Brett Favre, who has made an annoying ritual out of this. I actually admire Favre for his approach to football. He goes out there and slings it around like it’s his last game. He wins big by taking risks and, consequentially, loses big by the same measure.
I contrast that from what I see too often from decision-makers in politics, who toe the line between constituencies on two sides of an issue. Most legislation nowadays is inconsequential and more effective in scoring political points than in tackling big-picture problems. Instead, major issues such as a multibillion-dollar structural budget deficit in this state, a Chesapeake Bay on the ropes and the Purple Line are tackled in broad rhetoric. This is especially striking in this year’s election season, with primary day on Sept. 14. The fear of backlash prevents serious proposals from being put on the table so voters are more informed.
You see economic plans that talk about increasing efficiencies in government — a worthy goal that, after major cuts to local and state budgets, is like reaching around in a piggy bank for that solitary penny. Tax credits are a favorite. Credits for small businesses that stand on water. Credits for mini-wind turbines on your baby’s stroller. Credits for people who apply for tax credits. Tax credits of all forms abound. In all seriousness, I like a lot of the tax credits we have, but there comes a point where you need to stop nibbling at the edges and take a bite.
Another example is the Purple Line — a proposed light-rail line that would connect Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and run through this campus — which practically everyone supports. But try asking a politician how they’re going to help us pay for it. In every scenario, the state will have to pony up some matching funds for any federal grant money we get. Are politicians going to cut tens of millions of dollars each year in transportation funding for other projects? Are politicians going to increase the gas tax to raise several hundred million dollars?
What’s unfortunate about this apprehension over solving problems is that we share the blame. Too many victory-starved political pundits, activists and insiders play along with bland candidate platforms they know won’t address the issues. Voters get cynical and detach from the political process or, even worse, play along with the game, hoping this time will be different.
In a competitive world where we’re just trying not to lose, we plod along, asphyxiated by the mediocrity of our politicians. But this is a democracy, and our elected officials are a reflection of the best and the worst of you and me. As individuals, we’re put into a comfort zone by our peers and society. We’re told how we’re supposed to act and think so we’ll be accepted. We drift toward voting for those who reflect that comfort zone.
If we want to break the walls down and find hard-fought-over successes in our lives and our society, we need to take more chances and have greater tolerance for leaders who ask us to trust them as they take their own chances. You could call it change. I call it going out there and slinging it.
Matt Dernoga is a graduate student in public policy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org