When I talk about my latest book to civic groups, I use a surefire laugh line. The book includes a listing of thousands of famous people who have visited my hometown of Chattanooga. While compiling the book, I requested and received a list of the acts that played our largest arena. I copied and pasted it to my website, and people began showering me with praise. I was quite flattered. I tell my audience, “After all, there’s nothing I love more than getting credit for work I didn’t really do!”
There’s a nugget of truth in that self-deprecating line. We all appreciate a compliment, even if we used an online recipe, or a professional decorator.
Such honesty is rare in politics. The standard rules of ethics do not apply.
I grew up in Alabama. George Wallace ran the state for almost three decades, and he did not gain this power by being Mr. Nice Guy. After an initial defeat in 1958, he learned what the voters wanted to hear, and he never lost another election.
Much of that formula included appealing to people’s worst instincts, and not backing down. It has proven to be a successful route to political success, regionally and nationally.
I can recall one exception. In the 1970s, a longtime Alabama sheriff named Bob Collins was running for reelection. At a political rally, his challenger stood at the podium, promising to rid the county of drugs and liquor. He ranted and raved, condemning what he called “lax law enforcement.” When it came time for Sheriff Collins to reply, he ambled over to the microphone. In a low, gravelly voice, he said, “Folks, y’all know me by now, and I ask for your vote on election day.” End of speech. He easily won another term. He didn’t have to embellish, lie or take credit for anything. His work spoke for itself.
Many of today’s elected officials have no shame. It always makes me grimace to see a county commissioner, who has never supported a tax increase, smile for the camera at a ribbon cutting for a new school. The voters are thrilled that their children must no longer dodge leaks and contend with mice. They are apparently oblivious to the fact that the new building would not exist if Commissioner No-Tax had his way. Of course, he is constantly reelected.
We are seeing this play out on the state and national level now. Certain elected officials are unabashedly taking credit for “grant money” for improvements to provide broadband service to rural communities, and repairs to crumbling bridges. They show up for the photo opportunities, and hold press conferences to toot their own horns.
They fail to mention that they opposed the legislation for the federal funding that was passed last year to create jobs and put these wheels into motion.
When pressed on the issue, they will counter that infrastructure legislation “adds trillions to our national debt,” and they cannot support “forcing our children and grandchildren to pay for an unneeded socialist wish list.” They drone on about “wasteful spending on pet projects.”
From the other side of their mouth, they admit that they support “broadband funding and infrastructure projects, especially roads and bridges that will benefit our citizens.” So to review: they support it, although they are against it.
While it is true that many Congressional bills are too large, these politicians rarely offer any solutions of their own. They also ignore the fact that presidents from both parties promised, but failed, to deliver on infrastructure improvements for the past several decades.
I am glad that future generations will reap the benefits of improved water systems, sewer pipes, highways, bridges and more. I’m thankful for the current elected leaders who finally found a way to get this done.
In the 1950s, both parties worked together to pass President Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway construction bill. There were spirited debates over funding, but eventually they found common ground. Those forward-thinking public servants ended the era of two-lane roads. Thanks to them, everything from freight hauling, to daily commuting, to summer vacations are easier for us today.
I’m not sure our present-day naysayers could have made that happen. If they insist on taking credit for the good deeds done by others, let’s hold them accountable. Make them use dial-up internet, and drive on the two-lane roads.
David Carroll is a Chattanooga news anchor. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405, or at RadioTV2020@yahoo.com.