I equate politics with all the disillusionment we remember from high school. Phony "rah-rah" people all caught up in themselves, creating buzz about nothing. High school careers and political careers seem to be based on the same principle: create a cult of popularity with no real substance and it could take you a long way (if that's the way you want to go). If quantified, I'm willing to bet that the number of true sociopaths in elected office would make your hair stand on end.
What made me think of all this is a simple stop at a rest area on the New Jersey Turnpike.
I was driving back from Florida on a marathon push to beat another Nor'easter rolling toward our part of the world. I wanted to get ahead of it and give myself plenty of room for error, and the gamble paid off. I've always flown when I've vacationed in the sunshine state, but this time I wanted to see what it was like to drive it. (Next time I'll fly.) Anyway, I stopped at one of the New Jersey Turnpike rest areas and on my way back out the door was a leering full color photo of the porcine pomposity himself, Chris Christie. I am not a fan. However, it made me think about one of the cheesier things that some politicians do, and that is to use their office and its resources to promote themselves. Is it really necessary for the New Jersey governor to have his face plastered all over the rest area walls? What does that sort of thing cost the taxpayers? I forget the name of the Massachusetts state treasurer who was suspected of using state government media dollars in such a way as to promote himself during an election, but it landed him neck deep in hot water. Governor Christie is accused of having done the same with Hurricane Sandy money, outcome to be announced.
Self promotion can be a fuzzy area. If an issue is serious enough, the elected official is probably going to get a lot of face time with the media. What's fuzzy about it is the motivation behind the buzz. Some elected officials display judicious use of the media to preserve its impact for the really critical issues when they arise. Others whip up the buzz just like they did in High School to get voted Prom King or Queen. We, the voting public, have to pay just enough attention to these machinations to make a determination -- issue or non issue? Important enough for lots of media hype or not? The truly clever politician will spin the thing in such a way as to make his or her motivations as pure as the driven snow. It has always been our job as voters to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. It can be challenging at times because you don't want to point at a politician who is honestly trying to garner public support for a truly important cause.
This finally brings me around to the big question that I have to ask. Did Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin have to spend his entire state of the state address on the admittedly serious issue of heroin addiction? Here's why I'm asking this question. Do we really need to have our state called the heroin capital of the United States all over national media? That's exactly what happened. We are a state that relies heavily on tourist dollars, and you have to question the impact that a statewide drug epidemic will have on tourist visits. How many heroin addicts work in the resort industry? I certainly don't want to expose my personal property to being ripped off so a desperate heroin addict can feed his or her monkey. I'm simply questioning the motivation behind the rather sensationalist result of the governor's choice to focus his very important state of the state address on one problem, albeit a serious one.
No one can know the answer to this but the governor himself. Yes, you can argue the issue either way. The point about heroin being a big problem was made, but only time will tell if it will have a negative impact on tourism. Fewer tourism dollars equals less tax revenue, and less money to address the heroin issue. My personal take on it is that we took a reputational hit on a national scale, and it probably wasn't necessary. Many states have equal or greater drug issues, so I question the label "heroin capital of the United States." Giving the governor the benefit of the doubt, did he really intend for this characterization to be made? If you've ever met Peter Shumlin, you know that he is a very intelligent man. I'd prefer to think that it was not his intention to have us labeled as the heroin capital of the United States, justifiably or not. Unfortunately, the governor is now in the unenviable position of having to deal with the reputational damage. You can certainly argue the issue.
Arlo Mudgett's Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.