FROM UNDERNEATH JASON’S APPLE TREE — As the more astute of you have managed to puzzle out from my cryptic user name, I am a newspaper reporter.
Recently, I was covering local election issues, including a proposed recall of a sales tax increase county legislators had passed earlier in the year.
Many people were upset about the increase, which at 0.25 percent would mean spending an extra quarter on every $100 purchase.
A local Libertarian PAC (I’m avoiding using all names here for contractual reasons) solicited several thousand signatures to get the matter on the November ballot so that voters could repeal it. Their plan worked.
But what rankled me were the attitudes of some of the PAC members in the days leading up to the election.
Those of us who have passed third grade are familiar with Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion (not gravity), which states that for every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction.
Another law posited by Newton — this time about thermodynamics — states that the total energy in a closed system is conserved. That means energy is transitive; if you convert heat to work or atomic reaction to work, it is lossless.
Physical concepts are fine for science, but politicos are quick to forget they are subject to the same rules.
One PAC member was very vocal in his arguments against the sales tax, saying money in our county is being spent irresponsibly, that plans to spend the additional revenue were fuzzy, that the tax had yet to be properly vetted by the public, and that generally the sitting officials’ priorities were all wrong.
I agree. The problem came when I asked him a simple question: If you were in charge, what would you change about public spending?
He looked at me strangely, and said it wasn’t his place to say how the money should be spent — he only wanted to say how money shouldn’t be spent.
I pressed him: “Isn’t it fair — if you’re going to say money is being spent in the wrong areas — to say what areas it should be spent in instead? Isn’t that just the regular political collateral of a ‘Vote No On Issue X’ campaign?”
He responded that he was just a regular citizen, and it wasn’t a regular citizen’s job to decide how money should be spent. There was so much wrong with that statement that my jaw fell open.
First, he isn’t a “regular citizen” — whatever that means, comrade — he is a legislator (at a different level of government than the tax issue) who was seeking re-election. He was also a mouthpiece for a political action committee and was asking voters to rally behind him.
Second, it is by very nature every “regular” citizen’s job to provide input on how public money should be spent. That’s the most basic premise of representative government. To assert otherwise is to abdicate the responsibility of the electorate.
Third, the aforementioned Newtonian laws say that you can’t push without pushing back; you can’t burn a fuel without getting an equal amount of heat. In the same way, the social contract — the ‘physics’ that we use to interface with other people — doesn’t let people accuse others without reproach.
It’s simple: If you have the chutzpah to tell people that a policy is wrong, be ready also, then, to tell them what the better approach would be. Arming yourself with only negatives is not a good way to make progress. If you’re going to criticize, you should be obliged to offer an alternative.