Too many politicians scared of tough choices

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

You get what you deserve. You ought to find out what it is worth.

-- Big Star

Accusing government officials of incompetence has become a hip thing to do these days. It's like: "I've got these issues in my life and I need more money and I'm tired of seeing people who aren't as smart as I am getting rich and I can't seem to lose that extra 10 pounds and my dog has fleas ... Damn those politicians."

While I'll agree there are government officials at all levels way underqualified for the job who keep getting re-elected -- a tribute, I sadly believe, to like-minded constituents -- I wonder if some of the harshest, and most outspoken, political critics bother even to think about their monotonous commentary. Sure, local, state and national officials frequently suffer bouts of foot-in-mouth-itis, and some of the decisions they make are beyond egregious.

But I'm seeing way too much criticism lately based simply on "I heard ..." or "I read on the Internet ..." or "So-and-so said ..." Certainly plenty of rumor, innuendo and gossip is steeped in fact and turns out to be true. But those who keep up a constant running commentary of complaints, I believe, owe it to the subjects of their derision to at least check out the veracity of their information before spreading it.

That being said, I also believe far too many elected government officials and the personnel they appoint to positions of authority -- often based on nothing more than personal relationships or political favor -- are so poorly prepared for their jobs they've become detriments to progress. They fall, typically, into three categories: Those whose decisions are based on personal agendas, those who -- bless their heart -- simply don't know better, and those who don't have the courage to make tough, sometimes unpopular, decisions.

There's nothing that can be done for the middle group. They're going to fall in line with some influential colleague or do the bidding of a special interest group that catches their ear no matter what. They're always hit-or-miss

The first group not only deserves the derision directed toward its members by disgruntled constituents, its practitioners make a mockery of the democratic process. Representatives in our type government, it should be pointed out, are elected or appointed to look after the best interests of their electorate. To focus solely on individual concerns or the interests of a particular group is not only reprehensible, it is borderline criminal.

(An important side note: Too many political observers share the opinion that officials who take up the banner of special interests are OK, so long as the special interest they support fits into the observers' worldview. The old, "Yeah, he's a crook, but he's our crook" attitude is a huge part of the problem. Anyone who ignores duty to do the bidding of special interests is wrong: i.e. Republicans whose mantra is "Vote No" on every issue simply to make the other side look bad to voters. There's nothing noble or beneficial in that. Nothing.)

The biggest group of the three is the last one, those lacking the courage to make tough decisions. If you're going to do the bidding of the majority of people you represent, you need to go into the position with a clear understanding of one fact: You are not going to make everybody happy. Not everyone is going to like you, no matter how many promises you make or babies you kiss.

Sometimes you have to vote against funding a program that's benefitting only a select few. Sometimes you have to vote against a project that all your friends and family members support. Sometimes you're going to have to get away from the old "This is the way it's always been done" fallback.

I've witnessed -- not heard that it happened, literally seen -- politicians change a vote that they'd just told me they were going to make after being bum-rushed by angry representatives of a special interest group that opposed the issue. I've heard politicians justify a costly bit of legislation they pushed by stating, stubbornly, "No one can tell me how to vote." I've watched political bodies collectively melt under the pressure of heart-wrenching requests knowing that doing so would bust their budget.

Don't get me wrong: It's a tough job. I'd be the first to admit I couldn't do it. But as long as we keep letting our officials make these kinds of decisions without repercussion at the ballot box, we're going to continue to get what we deserve.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.