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Griffiths on The Need to Govern from a Broad Middle

By Dave Griffiths

TCT Columnist

Greetings, good people. I’ve been traveling a lot on business (if you ever get to Memphis, try the barbecued beef brisket at the Rendezvous restaurant, but don’t buy the local brew), so I’ve got an excuse, sort of, for not writing any columns since April.

Now it’s July and it’s hot, and we’re all wondering how our creaky old democracy will manage the latest budget fight in Washington.

I have no idea, but I do know that in some 40-plus years of news-conscious adulthood—both as a consumer and practitioner of journalism—I’ve never seen distrust of all levels of government at such a depressingly high pitch.

A couple town managers of my acquaintance will attest to that, and I’ll bet we’re all tired of seeing ideological purity trump the need to actually govern in Washington.

Where does it come from? I said it in April and I’m saying it now, with even more certainty. All this anger is about jobs. Three months ago, I figured that unemployment figures would continue their promising downward trend. Well, now it looks like the recovery has stalled, at least temporarily, and anti-government fervor and bitterness seem to be hardening.

How does that manifest itself in the way our elected and appointed officials govern? For some taxpayers, there’s a knee-jerk assumption that money is being misspent or that public entities employ far too many people at inflated salaries.

Sadly, those charges aren’t always based on evidence. Rather, the economic pain that so many of us have been feeling for so long translates into often vicious attacks on the nearest target: local government.

So those of us who choose to serve make many of our decisions in a defensive stance, fretting that even the tiniest tax increase—even after years of cutting back—will divide our communities at the expense of what’s best for the most vulnerable and dependent among us: our kids.

I mentioned jobs. That’s at the heart of all the frustration. People are either out of work or have had to get by without a decent raise for several years. Just like in 1992, when the weak economy opened the door for Bill Clinton’s first presidential term, the much more anemic economy of 2010 gave us the Oxford Casino (jobs, jobs, jobs), Gov. Paul LePage and enough Tea Party loyalists in Congress to keep Speaker of the House John Boehner from pursuing a somewhat moderate course that would lead to a debt ceiling agreement with both severe budget cuts and higher taxes on people who can afford them.

I’m going to guarantee right here and now that if the economic recovery gains promising steam by next year, the Tea Party will fade from public view as a powerful political force. I’m not saying they’ll all be thrown out of office in the 2012 election. Nor are the Republicans likely to lose their majority in the House, which is fine. We need that kind of balance.

All I’m saying is that somehow our elected officials will find a way to govern from a broad middle, and local and state governments all over the U.S. will begin to re-establish trust with their citizens.

I’ll bet you didn’t know that Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator, raised taxes 11 times during his eight years in office, according to the Simpson-Bowles commission that issued a realistic deficit reduction report last year. Back to pragmatic government. That’s where I hope we’re going, sooner or later.

Stay cool.

Dave Griffiths is a free-lance writer and editor who teaches writing and media relations and presentation skills to businesses, government agencies and nonprofits all over the United States. He lives in Mechanic Falls and can be reached at 345-9835 or dave@davegriffithscommunications.com.

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