Over-reaching and under-performing

There’s an old saying in political circles – Republicans over-reach and Democrats under-perform…

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

There’s an old saying in political circles – Republicans over-reach and Democrats under-perform.

I have seen this principle at work locally and nationally for many years and several national and local offices and elections.

You could file this under “that’s what we do.”

You’d think there’d be some exceptions, but as with everything else in our culture lately, most of us have self-selected into our respective philosophical corners.

By definition, politicians are good at pronouncements and promises. And, as more than one pundit has put it, elections are rarely about candidates or even issues, they are about the larger issues of hope and fear.

In both of those areas, Republicans are better at delivering.

Democrats make grand, sweeping promises, but generally have trouble delivering.

President Obama’s “Hope and Change” campaign is a perfect example. Who doesn’t want “Hope and Change”? But what is more fleeting and subject to interpretation than hope?

“Change” is slightly more objective, but, in a typical Democratic pattern, President Obama was noted for continuing, if not expanding, his predecessor’s policies.

From military and international affairs and treaties, to law enforcement and incarceration rates to immigration policies, “change” was the one thing we did not see in the Obama Administration.

President Trump, in typical Republican fashion, over-delivered in his promise to be a “disruptor”.

From NATO to the United Nations, to the economy, to health care, education, the environment and immigration, for better or worse, almost none of our policies in 2020 (and beyond) even slightly resemble what those policies had looked like for years, if not decades, before.

Traditional Democratic appeals to idealism or “Hope and Change” are inspiring – but rarely if ever focused – and notoriously difficult to measure or define.

The emphasis on “Change” tends to be a change from something instead of toward something.

In contrast to hope, fear is easily (though not always accurately) defined.

Republicans (candidates and voters) thrived on fear words like “Defund the police”, “fake-news” and the most dreaded word of all; “socialism”.

The nuances or subtleties, or even literal meanings of those terms might have been often lost, but they electrified campaign speeches and voters.

Again, voters (and sometimes candidates) were often more inspired by what they didn’t want than what they did want.

The irony, perhaps with both parties, is that objective reality, like a rising national debt or death rates from COVID, gets lost in the bluster, threats and promises.

I must admit that when it comes to politicians, standard adjectives fail me. Cowardly, corrupt and cruel might be apt, but it takes a galactic level of cluelessness to make some, if not many, statements or policies.

This couldn’t be imposed I suppose, but is it too much to expect our politicians to represent the values and needs of those of us who chose, support and pay them – and give them the titles and privileges they parade around as if they were born into them?

The term “pork” used to be used for pet projects that benefited a congressperson’s district.

That term is so 1990s. Now politicians and their families, and a few close friends, seem to declare open season on our nation’s resources and contracts.

But some moves, like those of the Pierce County Council recently, defy even standard definitions of corruption or nepotism.

What would a politician do with only a few weeks left of a term, with the competing party taking over for the first time in seventeen years, during a once-in-a-century, worldwide, lethal pandemic?

With portable morgues filling up with body bags across America, what should the Pierce County Council do with our local health department?

Ah, yes, what else but put forth a proposal to demoralize, defund and essentially break up a combined and fully-functional city and county health department?

And what purpose would justify such a dramatic, and certainly rushed implementation?

Here is where our local politicians meet, if not surpass, the bar of self-justifying blather that politicians on a national level seem to have mastered.

Listen closely sometime to any of the political programs when a politician is cornered on a difficult or pressing topic.

The words spill out, jumbled and evasive, barely coherent and certainly not memorable.

The term “word salad” has emerged. Does it apply to anyone except politicians?

Several years ago we bought a new television. It was one of those with dozens of keys on the remote control.

We had somehow turned on closed captioning and could not figure out how to turn it off.

It was yet another political season.

A woman who was largely responsible for inspiring the term “word salad” was being interviewed.

I was seeing her words as well as hearing them.

And I have to admit to being biased here; I’m a retired English and writing instructor at the college level. My eye is always out for coherent thought and convincing arguments.

I watched her words unravel like a spilled dictionary. A “dictionary on crack” was an appropriate term back then.

She rambled, ranted, contradicted herself and spouted absurdities and borderline gibberish, only stopping, in mid-sentence, when she ran out of breath.

She did what politicians do now when under pressure; she ran out the clock.

Watch, and listen to politicians closely. You can see them evading, denying and repeating – and saying anything except what needs to be said.

This person was running for a national office. Fortunately, this person was not elected. But she did inspire a new generation of politicians – and comedians.

A politician speaking clearly, simply and memorably is like a visitor, or even a vision, from another era, when leaders spoke eloquently, respectfully and sometimes even in a way that inspires their hearers.

If politicians must over-reach, could it just once more be in a direction that brings out the best, not the worst of us? That broadens our opportunities for prosperity and ensures protection of basic rights of safety and free expression?

The sponsor of our Pierce County Health Department fiasco declared that she wanted this decision to be her “legacy”.

She doesn’t need to worry. This scorched-earth policy proposal will be associated with her, and several others, for years to come.

The internationally recognized journal The Economist has defined American domestic and international policy shifts the past few years as “up-is-downism,” where heads of federal agencies, from the Department of Education to HUD to the EPA have a history of animosity, if not lawsuits, against the agencies they currently lead.

Somehow, in 2020, it must have made sense to someone.

Politics is, at its essence, about policy and administration. Sounds boring to me. May we have a boring year – or more – to come.