Incumbents should start working on their resumes
There comes that point when the water in the tea kettle begins to boil and you hear the telltale whistle announcing the arrival of the right scalding temperature. But had you stepped out of the house to water the roses and not paid attention, all that water will have boiled away and you’d have real trouble. That is precisely what is happening in New York politics. The politicians who put the heat on under the kettle don’t know that they are facing a fire of epic proportions. In fact, some of them may be experiencing that feeling of unease – you know the one – that happens when you leave on vacation and are sure you forgot to turn off the stove or unplug the iron.
I’ve been talking to a lot of politicians and many of them keep asking me what I think about voter unrest. When I interview them, they want to know what I see as if I had some kind of crystal ball. Underneath, of course, they are all praying that nothing changes. Hey, they’re the ones with the pollsters and the paid analysts on their inflated staffs. They know full well that there are some bad indicators out there. In Albany, there are already signs springing up along the highway suggesting that people should “Throw them all out.” Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. It’s always been that way. When pressed to tell me what their folks think about politicians, more often than not, my students have responded, “My parents say they’re all a bunch of crooks.”
There are some tough signs on the horizons for the pols. First there was that extraordinary election in Massachusetts of Scott Brown over Martha Coakley. Coakley, the popular attorney general, lost her bid for Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat despite everything the Democratic establishment could do to save her. Remember, now, we are talking about Blue State Massachusetts.
Unfortunately for our politicians, we are living in very, very bad times. A recent story in the New York Times notes that the little investors are getting their money out of the stock market just as fast as they can. There is some talk that we are about to enter into a period of deflation, something we haven’t seen since the years of the Great Depression. Every day there is another bad financial story and a lot of people are out of work. If you are one of them, you are very depressed and very angry. It is really quite simple: when times are bad, people get frustrated and when people are frustrated they look for targets and there are no more convenient targets than people who are in office.
But wait, it actually gets worse. It isn’t only that politicians in office are all too often feathering their own nests while their constituents suffer. It is also the fact that these people have rejected every sensible move to save themselves. The governor calls a special session to make things right and some of these jokers won’t even interrupt their summer vacations to attend. These very same politicians refuse to pass sensible ethics reform with, among other provisions, the stipulation that every voter needs to know exactly who they are taking money from, to the penny. They actually think they can pass a half-baked bill that tells us some but not all. Who do they think they are fooling? Nor have they done anything about setting up a commission that will fairly reapportion and draw legislative districts where everyone has a chance.
King Louis XVI of France didn’t get it either. He thought he was beloved by the people. Ditto the Russian Czars. Do you think I believe revolution and mayhem are coming? The short answer is nope but there is always the ballot box. A few more Scott Browns, a change in the House of Representatives in which at least four or five New York Democratic members of Congress lose their seats and you had better believe that the message will get through. The problem, of course, is that the same Republicans who played a large part in getting us into the boiling water will then be in charge again. Nevertheless, you had better believe that some politicians are working on their resumes. Unfortunately, there are only so many lobbyist jobs available for ex-legislators.
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 8/24/10