Mero Moment: When Politics Brings Out The Worst

Like most guys, I love the fight. I love the battle of ideas and personalities that make politics both a blood sport and one of the most genuine expressions of human virtue I know. Politics is a drama of good versus evil and humility versus pride. It brings out the worst and the best in us. We hate it to the point of never ever wanting to hear another politician say another self-congratulatory word, and love it so desperately that we’ll even stop to listen to the opinions of perfect strangers.

Today, I’m on the side of loathing politics. I’m sure tomorrow will be different – sanity will be restored – but today I wouldn’t care if every insecure and self-serving politician, along with childish special interests, vanished from the earth. Frankly, I’m sick of the pettiness. I’m tired of feigned courtesies and pretentious gestures. Mostly I’m frustrated with the Jekyll and Hyde personalities – really wonderful people who drink a little power and become their worst selves.

Here’s what I’ve witnessed over the past week at the Utah Legislature. I awoke one morning to a propaganda sheet by an advocacy group that disliked one of the bills we supported. They called it a “fact sheet” but it contained anything but facts. It was full of lies and misrepresentations. But it was effective enough to influence the mind of a committee chairman. So we moved the bill to another committee and fought back. We won, but not until we had to disabuse the new committee of all of the lies they were hearing from opponents.

Later that same day I sat in the Senate gallery watching another of our bills get pilloried. I had imagined that the days of a politician saying “just trust me” were long over but I was a witness as a bill to place a reasonable cap on government spending was undone by conservative legislators who explained, in the politest of words, that they are the human embodiment of fiscal sanity and any limitations on state spending are really limitations on their good judgment and thus an ungracious insult to their unimpeachable character. Oh brother.

On yet another stellar day, I listened as a bill to provide a bit of educational assistance to veterans was at first glance strongly supported by legislators and then, in a blink of an eye, soundly defeated on the grounds that such bills were part of a master plan to make Republicans look bad. What? All someone has to say to our Legislature is that a veterans bill is part of an evil conspiracy to impugn the character of our Republican majority and it dies an ignominious death? Wow.

And then, just yesterday, a representative dead set on saving the world from illegal immigrants panicked that his bill wouldn’t be heard and finagled to get a floor vote but was crushed by colleagues who wanted no part of it. For their rightful opinion he called a motion to recess an act of cowardice. You know, I’ve been in the middle of the immigration fight for a few years now, and cowardice isn’t how I describe my team.

Ego and arrogance seemed to rule this past week at the Legislature. And all I want is a great debate about good ideas. I applaud a moment of candor when one senator opposed to our Health Care Compact bill rose to say she simply didn’t trust our state Legislature to handle the health care needs of Utah better than the federal government. I disagree, of course, but how refreshing is that display of honesty?

We need to start a campaign for good ideas, not politics. Civic participation is at all-time lows precisely because politics-as-usual is at an all-time high. Is it possible that good ideas can triumph over pettiness, insecurities and paranoia? I sure hope so. If not, the powers that be deserve all of the negative attention they get.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.