Friday, April 01, 2011

So Michigan elected an amateur instead of a professional, happy now?

Despite the Founders envisioning a system of citizen legislators with career farmers, bankers, and businessmen taking time from their actual careers to represent fellow citizens in the legislature the system has evolved into an institution where the elected officials have to well-versed in a sort of evil bible to accomplish things and create sound public policy, as well as unsound public policy.
it is looking more and more as if Governor Rick Snyder will need some professionals on and in hand to keep his controversial budget and tax proposals on any sort of track towards enactment.
The legislature, now finding itself trying to smile and agree with everyone, might want some quick schooling on the arts and mysteries of professional politicking as well.
Ah, but there’s a problem there. Class, see if you can pick out what the problem might be. Anyone? Don’t be shy. What is the problem with Mr. Snyder calling on professional politicians? Why would the legislature not want to get training in politicking? C’mon now, you know this.
That’s right: because everyone hates professional politicians. And why does everyone hate professional politicians? All together now: professional politicians are the reason the world is the mess that it is in.
Professional politicians spend too much money, they need too much money, they’re always schmoozing with lobbyists, which means they are never listening to the people except when it’s election time and they try to get votes. Professional politicians have no spine, no character, no soul, no morality. They kiss babies and steal their lollypops.
We should not pay professional politicians. We should put limits on how long professional politicians can stay in office. We should not pay professional politicians. They shouldn’t get any pensions, any healthcare insurance. We should not pay professional politicians. We should take away their staffs and their offices and their parking spaces. Moreover, we should not pay professional politicians.
We want people who will do what we tell them to do. We will elect people who will cut taxes and cut spending but won’t cut anything we want because we want to keep all the stuff we want, but they can cut all the stuff somebody else wants ’cause we don’t want that stuff, unless cutting that stuff means you have to cut our stuff, too, in which case don’t cut anything. We can only get that clear policy path if we don’t have professional politicians, because they get paid to screw things up. Amateurs will do the will of the people, and screw things up for free.
Yes, yes, of course, but to raise a timid voice in response to this otherwise well-crafted argument, professional politicians can get things done. They may take some time about it, they may compromise along the way, but good professional politicians eventually get things done.
Professional politicians can also recognize when an idea is not ripe to push on the public, or when it is such a good idea it should be pushed even when the public opposes it and can find the best ways to convince the public to go along with the proposal.
It goes without saying that Governor Snyder is not by himself equipped to cope.
Mr. Snyder knew he would face opposition to his budget and tax proposals. He so acknowledged this week, and the latest opinion polls show the public is already losing favor with his job performance. Specific polls on specific proposals within the larger proposal, such as the call to end the earned income tax credit, show many have failed to get to support.
And the legislature is clearly hearing the worries. While the majority Republicans clearly want to back their guy, Mr. Snyder, there are positions in his proposal they have problems with, and clearly the public has problems with those positions.
Already the odds are that Mr. Snyder’s proposal to tax pensions will not fly. Lt. Governor Brian Calley fought the fight to defend the proposal, and will continue to do so. But that proposal is certainly in trouble.
And that issue being in trouble puts the entire tax proposal in trouble. And if the tax proposal is in trouble, then the budget proposal is in trouble. Because Mr. Snyder’s budget proposal does not cut enough if the tax plan does not pass. If the legislature only cuts the business tax and does not raise other funds, then the budget will be left with almost another $1 billion to cut. That would be on top of the cuts that Mr. Snyder has already called for and that many groups already condemn as being draconian.
But it is also clear the state has to make budget cuts, because most likely it will not have the revenues needed to meet expenditures next year.
It is also clear the public wants change, though how that change is to take place or what to encompass remain ill-defined. There is a sense that taxes are too high. Businesses can argue that compared to many other states Michigan’s business taxes are higher, and Mr. Snyder attacked that issue.
There is also a sense that the state spends too much, but too much where and for what is largely unclear. The answer to what the state spends too much on depends largely on who is asked. If there is any overall sense, it is that public employees probably have better benefits or salaries than the general public that has not seen big increases in its compensation. Even then, it appears the public employees the public wants to see take cuts are the elected officials, the professional politicians, and not so much the regular state workers.
It also seems plain that by and large the public does not want its services cut. They want the roads fixed, the state’s food free of disease, the cops to come when they dial 9-1-1, the libraries open so they can check out 47 story books for the kids.
And there is also a sense that nothing is working. Why is nothing working? Obviously it’s the economy…wait, no…uh, okay, obviously it’s the schools have failed…no, no, that can’t be…okay, uh, obviously it’s the greedy corporations…no, no, no, that can’t be right, okay, ahhhh, I got it, obviously it’s the greedy unions…no, no, what was I thinking, it’s the greedy public employee unions, yeah, that’s…no, I guess not, okay, so….ah…ah…is it us? Are we the reason nothing is working, ’cause we can’t make up our minds? Okay, okay, I get it, I get it, it couldn’t possibly be us…so…ah…cripes, who’s left? Hey, I got it. Nothing is working because of the professional politicians.
Yeah, though, in the end it’s going to take a little professional politicking to help get things working again. Like it or not, it will.
Mr. Snyder is not a professional politician. Thanks to term limits, most of the legislature isn’t either. The fact they were not professional politicians was much of their appeal, and Mr. Snyder certainly made the point during the campaign that he wasn’t a professional politician — but his opponent was.
The fact is that regardless of what sort of individual we elect to power we need individuals that have a strong interest in the how of government operations, the commitment to perform the necessary rituals, and the knowledge of what is good policy, because good policy is not simply a matter of categorical imperative. Unfortunately we lose sight of the need to simply put forth good policy and decide we want certain types of people instead.
Mr. Snyder is a business executive by trade. As has been pointed out, he is approaching the state’s problems as a business executive and going for the quick strike and fast turnaround. In the corporate world, as has also been pointed out, there are tax, legal and investor implications for not moving fast and dramatically.

So, Mr. Snyder has proposed a fast, dramatic proposal. And he is now running into opposition that he does not have to run into in the corporate world. In the corporate world, the CEO says do something, it’s pretty much going to get done.

The political world, at least in our democratic republic, doesn’t work that way. Here the governor says do this, and everyone else says, why? What’s in it for me? Who were your friends on this? What do I get if I do?

So here is where the professional politicians have to work. And that means the pros both backing Mr. Snyder and those opposing him.

Just to look at Mr. Snyder, he has pros working for him. You can’t get a much cannier pro than Dick Posthumus, the state’s former Senate majority leader and lieutenant governor. He was there with former Governor John Engler, and like him or hate him, Mr. Engler was probably the state’s most brilliant politician, a master at understanding the workings of the system, setting tactics and strategy, working the best buttons on the right people, and making the short-term deal while working towards the long-term goal. He was never afraid to make a compromise when one was needed, just as he was never afraid to take the bold step when the time was propitious so to do, and always with an eye towards “How does it get me closer to the ultimate goal?”

The legislature has pros by the nature of people having been there and drawn a salary. But in the 19 years of term limits, the political pros who were top of their game — the Nicklaus, Willy Mays, Bart Starr, Horowitz, Olivier, Picasso of that breed — were gone and unable to pass down the skills needed. So, Mr. Snyder has a bit of an advantage.

So far, however, he does not appear to be using that advantage. His fight in favor of his proposals leaves open gaps in the arguments the public and opponents are exploiting, and he is failing thus far to adequately answer them.

He is staking everything right now on the proposals, but he must be ready should they fail. Because, right now, as of this writing, they probably will fail
There is a what, there is a how, and we need to stop being concerned with the who or other identity issues.

Even the politicians and the statesmen of the Founders' days had particular education, experience, and training to accomplish what they did.

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