Thursday, April 10, 2008

Carrots, sticks, homicide, love, politics, assault weapons, Michael Bloomberg, Jack Kennedy and Barak Obama

Ignored, overlooked, or feeling unloved, once or twice a year in this country a student grabs a firearm and blows away some of his schoolmates.

Why do I think it isn’t such a huge leap from berserk students to the kind of people who grow up to be politicians?

Love, yearning, bullets and ballot boxes

Think about it. Running for office is a way of trying to make people love you. Or at least of trying to make them support you. Political candidacy often satisfies just the kind of yearning for attention and power you’d feel if you finally got so hungry for it that you grabbed an assault weapon and shot up the school.

What about people who don’t support you for election, or who try to siphon away to other candidates the love you feel you’re owed? You can get even with them if you’re a successful politician.

You can slime them. You can smear them. You can lie about them. Or you can employ a political “operative” (a fancy term for thug) like Karl Rove to do it for you. You can run for prosecutor in New York and then after you’re elected indict people and make them do the perp walk like Rudi Giuliani and Elliott Spitzer did. Just make sure, as former New York Attorney General and then New York Governor Elliott Spitzer didn’t, that if you’re stirring the public pot you don’t also have a little something cooking on the side.

In other words, running for office in the United States is, as often as not, a symbolic way of whacking people over the head with a stick, or blowing their heads off.

Ya gotta be nuts!

There’s an increasingly popular notion that you have to be slightly twisted to want to be President of the United States. My own theory, to state it in another way, is that most politicians – there are exceptions, as you’ll see – are a heartbeat away from being serial killers and that elective office is mass murder by other means.

For all I know some politicians like George Bush who so far has gotten over 4,000 Americans plus who-knows-how-many Iraqis killed during his Presidency may be even further along than that.

Which brings me to Mayor Michael Bloomberg. No, I don’t think he’s as ham-handed a gunslinger or stick swinger as George Bush. But for a while the people around Mayor Bloomberg seemed to be mumbling something about a Bloomberg third party candidacy for President. More lately he seems to be flirting with a McCain endorsement, which – who knows? – might lead to the vice-presidential nomination on the Republican ticket.

However, right now, the Bloomberg approach to problem solving – a kind of business executive top-down management style – seems to have hit a concrete wall at racetrack speed.

Congestion pricing gets all jammed up

The legacy item of Bloomberg’s administration was supposed to be congestion pricing – a rule that would have charged motorists $8 each time then drove in and out of mid-to-lower Manhattan on weekdays.

Bloomberg promised a bunch of carrots to New York Citizens in return. New York would get some money from the Federal government. Traffic would move more smoothly.

The problem is, the representatives of most New Yorkers didn’t buy it. First of all, precious few of us drive to work in this town. You’d have to be crazy. Forget the stick of $8 congestion pricing. A garage for the day can easily set you back over $30. Park your car on the street and it’s likely to get hauled away, while you get stuck not only with a fine, but also commercial towing and garaging charges until you rescue your vehicle.

The secret tax

Congestion pricing was really a hidden tax that probably would have raised the cost of everything from a plumbing repair bill to real carrots, since plumbers have to bring their trucks to the job, and carrots don’t make the trek from rural America to midtown Manhattan on roller skates.

So Manhattan residents would have been doubly screwed. They’d pay to use their own cars (if they have them) to get out of town on weekends and home on Sunday nights. And they’d pay even if they don’t drive every time the sink leaked or they got a yearning for carrot soup (or anything else edible.)

Meanwhile, city employees get thousands of free parking permits and the mayor, who says he uses the subway, admits taking a chauffeured limousine to get to the subway from his Upper East Side townhouse. So why support anti-congestion measures that he doesn’t support himself?

What real leadership means

Mayor Bloomberg, like Elliott Spitzer, like most politicians, forgot what real leadership is all about. You don’t get people to follow by dangling a carrot in front of them and threatening a stick if they don’t follow you.

In fact, here in New York, a good many of us feel most of the time as if we’re chewing on a stick while the Mayor beats us over the head with a bunch of carrots.

What is real leadership?

You lead as a few exceptional people have. In my lifetime there have been two of those. One was the late President Jack Kennedy, whom I’ve missed since some frustrated politician named Lee Harvey Osald blew him away from a perch in a Dallas schoolbook warehouse.

The other is Barack Obama.

Watch (in early 1960s film clips or the evening television reports today) how they do it. They do not dangle carrots and tell us about shining cities on hills. They do not brandish sticks and tell us Al Quaida is coming, so we’d better be good, we’d better not pout. Instead, they inspire us to join them in great and urgent work.

John McCain waves a stick at me, warning that I’d better agree with him or Osama Bin Laden will magically emerge from under my bed and destroy me. Hillary Clinton keeps warning me with her waving stick that if the phone rings at 3 AM in the White House (for what? A man at the door with a late night pizza delivery?) she’ll know what to do. Or maybe she’ll just have a $2 tip handy for the delivery man.

Leading by inspiration

It’s time for our politicians to act like the leaders they’re supposed to be. No carrots. No sticks. Just inspiration – inspiring all of us to pull together for the common good, and then giving us programs we can pull for.

So far as I can see, the only political candidate for anything in the United States who leads by inspiration is Barack Obama.

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