A word to the wise is efficient

February 14, 2011|By TAMELA BAKER

All that “choose civility” idealism we’ve been hearing so much about lately appears to have been lost on some of our best and brightest.

A case in point was this recent report from Annapolis: “Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, accused the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees of being ‘duplicitous’ and not clearly explaining a mandatory fee contained in a tentative state contract agreement. Shank said the ‘service fee’ AFSCME will receive from state employees — even those who don’t belong to the union — is buried in ‘double speak’ in a list of the contract’s highlights.”

Gotta give him props for making headlines and expanding our vocabulary at the same time. And frankly, it takes raw pluck for any politician to fling a word like duplicitous (not to mention “double-speak”) around, since it could easily boomerang. But hey, I’ll play; I like words.

As in most public debates, this appears to be a complex issue with more than one perspective; in such cases the truth is usually somewhere in the middle. Trouble is, it’s a lot more difficult to reach that middle when you’ve already publicly pummeled the other party.

There’s a bit of a pattern here, as demonstrated in an exchange I witnessed a few years ago between another of our legislators and a delegate from the D.C. ‘burbs who was shopping a bill for developing fuel from crops. She thought — not unreasonably — it might appeal to a delegate from a rural region with working farmers. It was, it seemed, a felicitous (“very well suited, pleasant, delightful”) opportunity. And it was kind of a big deal that an urban Maryland Democrat took the trouble to approach a Western Maryland Republican in the first place.

What could have happened: He might have said, “well, let’s talk about that and if it looks good for my constituents, maybe I can support you.” No commitment, no obligation, but a building block perhaps for some cooperation. Everybody’s happy.

What actually happened: Our guy informed her there was plenty of oil in Alaska.

She sighed, and without another word turned and left. Whether she ever discussed another bill with him, I can’t say. I have my doubts.

How this practice of simply alienating people helps Washington County isn’t immediately apparent. But before we criticize the folks we elected, consider this: They are what we’ve trained them to be. And that makes us complicitous (“associating or participating in” — or COMPLICIT for short).

It’s hard to say which was more telling about the aforementioned incident — that it happened at all, or that reporting it seemed to raise nary an eyebrow. Seems we’ve taught our politicians that we don’t CARE if they never cooperate with anybody (or get anybody to cooperate with THEM) or whether they accomplish much that’s tangible as long as they give lip service to a certain ideological line.

We’ll eat up buzzwords like “jobs” and “lower taxes” during election campaigns regardless of whether they have any workable strategy for producing them. We want them to rant and rave about the Big Bad Dems even though in Maryland, they can’t have any policy impact whatsoever unless they manage to persuade a sizable number of Democrats to vote with them. But if they so much as say hello, we accuse them of just “going along to get along.”

In the meantime, Washington County suffers from double-digit unemployment, diluted property values and plummeting resources for all those public services we’ve come to expect local governments to provide. Your property taxes might very well go down this year, but it won’t be because of how you voted. It’s because assessments soared to artificial levels when we had that little boomlet a few years ago, but now that the real estate market has shriveled, assessments have collapsed to lower levels than where they probably should be.

Now if I’m sounding a little solicitous (“full of concern or fears”), it’s because real problems await solutions while we insist our leaders squander what little voice we have on loud but largely symbolic objections to pretty much anything that smacks of coming from the “other side.”

I’m not suggesting anybody compromise any fundamental values; I wouldn’t respect them if they did, and neither should you. But if ever there were a time to stop grandstanding and start negotiating (now THERE’S a word to consider…), this is it.

Whether we like it or not, all grandstanding really accomplishes is to turn off the very people we need.
And that, in a word, is calamitous.
Tamela Baker, a former reporter and editor for The Herald-Mail, lives in Hagerstown.

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