Fortunately my exposure was brief. I don’t have TV at a cabin my wife and I enjoy in the Catskills. I did, however, read the news coverage of the debate times two in several electronic newspapers. I can’t help myself.
Shrill voices punctuated a normally quiet early morning cup of coffee as the steeply angled sun shone in. The only clouds hung over my iPad.
Now before you conclude that my comfort is what is wrong with America, grant me a few minutes of reﬂection. Fifty years divided between government service and building companies offer some puzzle pieces, with a barely visible picture.
Since President Trump’s public feud with Congressman Elijah Cummings, arguments have tended to use Baltimore illustratively. But, most big cities would qualify. Trump ﬁgures he can take on Baltimore since he has no chance of winning Maryland. Too bad that once again Trump chose ad hominem language rather than reason. Division is his calling card.
Big city leaders, Baltimore included, have deployed political tools at a dangerous scale. Small cities don’t provide as much tax revenue, and their citizens (closer to the elected) tend to concentrate on the fundamentals — clean water, safe neighborhoods and timely dispatch of potholes.
In many of our largest cities, on top of out-sized promises, Mayors and its Councils have given public employees ever bigger paychecks. Well why not. Better pension beneﬁts. Check. And if teachers wanted protection from those irritating charter schools, well okay. The teachers union is a part of the political coalition.
The end result: a coalition of interest groups that voice concern for those challenged by life’s circumstances, but whose principal interest is their tenure, checkbook and retirement.
Many big cities became employment agencies that protected the employed — monopolies enabled by a political monopoly—in City after City, the Democratic Party.
Only New York City, surprisingly, elected several GOP mayors. I lived there while ﬁrst Giuliani and then Bloomberg were mayors. Neither brought Nirvana, but that is not on offer anywhere. They did, however, achieve dramatic reductions in crime and enabled school choice for many. The latter put creative pressure on traditional public schools, while the former gave most neighborhoods security. Not bad — but the point is that political monopolies do not work.
So forgive me if I greet the promise that if we just envelop humanity with larger government programs, with their attendant lifetime employment, all will be well. Count me a skeptic.
The truth is we need to pay our government’s bills, not just issue more debt. We need to introduce choice throughout public education for all families and their children. We need to harmonize pension obligations with cold-eyed projections of future revenue. And, in my view, we need to further enable State and Local governments to resolve issues that will, if left unchecked, consume our politics and attention spans. America is at her best when we work hard at avoiding private and public concentration of power and spread the ingenuity that results from competitive engagement in both private and public enterprise.
Enough, it is a very pleasant day—I am going outside.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.