Letter from Langdon: Devil in the Details
Politics always play in stereo: the devil out of one speaker, an angel through the other. Listen in to Richard Oswald's latest adventures in candidacy.
They say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. (I’m sure it’s purely coincidental that big government is in charge of road surfacing.)
Two years ago, the state representative's seat in my part of northwest Missouri was open. I filed as a Democrat and ran unsuccessfully, but with the best of intentions.
I learned a few things. For instance, I found that most people don’t like to hear politicians talk about money, especially when the politician seems to be holding out his hand for a campaign contribution. That’s the part I hated most. I don’t like to ask for money (having been raised by people who believed that the way to get money was to work for it).
When you talk to people about political advertising, most feel the same way I do: that it’s all pretty pointless. But elections have proven time and again that the well-financed campaign has a better chance than one with bare bones/no bones spending. Even so, that money has roots.
One exception — there’s always an exception — may be Clint Zweifel. Clint won election to the Missouri House over his incumbent opponent a few years ago mostly by making it a point to talk to every voter in the 78th District. In Clint’s case, at least, hard work and a meaningful message replaced big money.
It means a lot when supporters are willing to put themselves on the line with some type of support. My experience in politics has changed my outlook on political “giving.” I now understand how strongly candidates value and appreciate the generosity of core supporters who are willing to help out with their own time or funds. And I also know that if individual citizens don’t fill that role, big business and special interests will dominate the political scene.
Before ending its 2008 session, the Missouri General Assembly repealed campaign contribution limits for the general election. The reason given was to make elections “fairer” by eliminating the round-about unlimited expenditures of tax exempt 527 groups (like the group that produced the anti-Kerry Swift Boat ads in 2004) whose sole purpose is to influence elections.
Ultimately, the power of the vote should be greater than the power of the dollar, so long as people are armed with the facts, but sometimes facts in political advertising are hard to come by. Maybe one day some brave politician will pass a law in favor of unlimited truth.
When you talk to folks about their politics, lots of them won’t own up to favoring any political party. But like my friend Bill Bishop discusses in his book, “The Big Sort,” birds of a political feather tend to flock together: People who share common political beliefs prefer to live among their own kind rather than tolerate differing viewpoints. Bill says that folks live in neighborhoods where they feel accepted and comfortable. Around here, though, except for a few devout followers of the right or left, the common political belief is skepticism.
“Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, you must be a politician” seems to sum up how a lot of Missourians feel about elected officials.
Fattened (incumbent) sheep, Bourbon County, Kentucky
Photo: Julie Ardery
That attitude doesn’t always result in a turnover the way it did for Clint Zweifel. Sometimes voters feel more comfortable with the status quo. Like one voter who trained sheep dogs with his own small flock told me in 2006, “Politicians are like my sheep. It takes a while to get them nice and fat,” he said. “If you get rid of the old ones, you have to fatten up new ones. Better just to keep the old ones.”
Over the last couple of days it has come to light that some of our leaders in big government may have accepted home mortgage rates that were a little better than what regular customers might expect. According to one senator, after buying a new home on the beach, he wasn’t asking for special consideration but simply called the CEO of Countrywide Financial to inquire about the location of their offices.
Makes you wonder who helped him find his way to Washington, doesn’t it?
Some of us, especially politicians, carry a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. The devil tries to make us swerve off the path of righteousness (something that happens quite a bit in politics), and the angel wants us to maintain a strong sense of direction. In 2006 an angel whispered into my ear that I needed to do something to change things. I did what he said and found my name on the ballot. I met a lot of good people, made some new friends, and learned a thing or two.
And it was kind of nice to see a familiar name on the ballot.
Now it’s two years later, the angel has whispered in my ear, and I’m running for state rep”¦..again.
Here I go down that long, poorly paved road.
Who's in charge of your tax money?
Image: The Inn at the End of the World
Not much has changed in my home state of Missouri since I ran the last time. Many taxes collected originally to fund state services are now redirected as tax credits to profitable corporations. I think there’s a possibility that tax credits have been over done. Sometimes we find the devil in the details of policies that don’t serve the public good as much as they serve a special interest.
I think it’s doubtful that most Missouri citizens would vote to tax themselves for the benefit of big corporations with millions or billions in earnings.
I’ve always thought that the purpose of state and local taxes is to provide services that make this a better and safer place to live for the benefit of everyone. That’s why it’s important to find candidates who will do the job you want done in the county seat, the state capitol, or in Washington DC. You should let them know you support them, and why.
If you have a hard time making up your mind about a candidate, ask the angel on your shoulder.
He always has an opinion.