Thursday, October 12, 2006

It's Sometimes Hard to Have Faith In Government

As an undergraduate student, I majored in journalism and minored in political science and marketing. As a doctoral candidate, I am exploring how democracy is enhanced or hindered by the journalism and public relations professions. So I’m a fan of democratic government.

But I have to say that it has been hard to have faith in government lately. I keep reading about government goofs, and worse, at the local, state, and national levels.

Just recently I was shocked at a quote in this very newspaper by a local elected official who shared this gem of wisdom: “the people buying the condos in downtown Grand Haven might have more than one car.”

Ya think?!

Let’s see. Is it really surprising that people buying condos that cost twice an average middle class home might have the financial means to buy a second set of wheels? Is it hard to imagine that the people buying these condos, which are very likely a second home, would be the kind of people to buy a second vehicle as well? One only need take random glances at the driveways on Grant, Pennoyer or any other street in Grand Haven to see that two vehicles is the norm. You don’t need to be an honor student at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard to determine parking needs. You should, though, if you are a local government leader, think about these things before the condos are built, before the site plans are approved. It’s called “planning.” Look into it.

My wife and I and countless other individuals walking along the channel have wondered aloud about the parking issue that is emerging in Grand Haven. New residents downtown might indeed have two cars. They might want to have friends over. New businesses and residents will draw more people to town. This is good. But they will all need to park. If they can’t, they might not come back. This is bad. What’s the plan?

Moving on to the county level, I’ve been amused and dismayed to read about Ottawa County’s $40,000 spelling error. Sure, mistakes happen. But spelling “public” wrong on a ballot is hard to fathom. You could say it’s an “l” of a mistake. Maybe they should have left it as is, saved us all a lot of money, and probably increased voter turnout. We know from pollsters in Florida that the average American can’t read a ballot anyway. The $40,000 saved on reprinting ballots could have been used to provide signage for new Grand Haven parking lots. Less the fee of a parking consultant, and a spelling consultant to make sure the signs are correct.

At the state level, I’ve been dismayed by the gubernatorial debates. I’ve also really always wanted to use the word gubernatorial in a sentence. Now I’ve done it twice. Anyway, you would think that a debate between people who hope to represent all of us could have the civility we all expect and deserve. Instead, the tone and informational quality of these debates was on par with reality TV. Call it “Survivor: Political Debate.” Can we vote them both off the island?

At the national level, we’ve also got sex scandals—again. An insane narcissist in North Korea is developing nuclear weapons, but our news has been about a senator sending naughty messages to a congressional page. In a sense, this breach of trust is big news. But you’d think our leaders could lead and represent us in a way that would make us proud. How can we trust our economy and defense to people we can’t trust to be around young people? Of course, I can’t resist pointing out the hypocrisy here as well. Get this: a senator gets caught sending naughty emails to a page and appropriately resigns, and TIME magazine declares the end of the Republican party. But when we had a sitting Democratic president who actually had sex in the oval office with an intern, and lied about it, we were chastised for not separating a person’s personal life from their ability to do their job. Had Senator Foley been a Democrat, he would be declared a “victim” for being accused of anything, and anyone who pointed out his misdeeds would have been labeled a homophobe.

The only concrete action the federal government has taken recently has been to approve building a 700-mile fence along our 2000-mile border with Mexico. Perhaps we should have the legislators proposing this take a long walk on a short pier. Or, maybe leave the border alone and fence in the congressional pages, or the senate, or both—but not together.

I’m not sure how all of this is related. Government issues from local to national, from parking to sex. I guess there is one connection between parking and sex: it should be illegal and morally unconscionable to pay for either one.