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David Cox | The strategy of hope

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“Hope is not a strategy.” So said Chuck Barger, quoting an Air Force maxim, as he introduced officials speaking at Jan. 6’s community breakfast. How right he is.
In my last column, I wrote of the hope that surrounds and infuses us, despite realities that became all too local with the closing of the truck terminal in Rockbridge County and the loss of 100 jobs. True hope takes into account the facts of life that surround us, while looking ahead and beyond them to the vision of what might realistically be.

But hope alone doesn’t get us there. It needs vision to give it focus, and then a strategy that, like a road map, will guide through the twists and turns and choices on the ground to get us to the hoped-for destination. Strategy puts hope into action.

Yet even as hope abounds, strategy seems in painfully short supply. Lots of ideas flood Washington, most of them having to do with spending lots of money. Not so in Richmond, where the opposite is true, having to do with cutting lots of money. As the legislature starts meeting, no certain agenda has grasped the vision of the General Assembly, much less the Commonwealth’s population.

The most obvious course is the one that Gov. Kaine is taking: Cut, and cut, and cut some more. As reluctant as he may be to chop education, health care, and other vital programs, he sees no other choice. One can hardly blame him.

But is this cutting really strategic? For example, if the state cuts funding that then must be picked up by others, have we as a population really saved anything? The buck has not been cut but simply been passed. Slashing Medicaid will in itself not reduce the need of poorer people for health care; it will require hospitals, doctors, nursing homes and ultimately the public at large to pick up the tab. Trimming support of education, without reducing some of the responsibilities that this funding is supposed to meet, will burden local governments who, in turn, will have no option but to multiply the cuts they already face, or break laws, or raise taxes.

A more strategic approach would be to combine lowered state funding with lowered state mandates. Cut regulations along with budgets.

Note, though, that the governor apparently sees no other choice than to cut; yet that’s all on the expenditure side, with no increases in revenue. For raising revenue would mean raising taxes. Yes, he does have one proposal: double the cigarette tax. You can imagine what the Republican majority in the House of Delegates thinks of that.

I don’t think they’re thinking strategically, though. For one thing, hiking this tax is a strategy that would also reduce smoking and the illnesses it causes, and thus our health care costs. Yes, there are the usual no-nos about never raising taxes in a recession, which is a strategic argument. But the GOP idea is that raising taxes is always bad. It’s a fundamental principle of the party in Virginia that must never, ever be broken. Suddenly, strategy has become an ideology. And ideology takes what might often be a very important concept (as low taxes truly are), and makes of it not a means to an end but an end in itself. It ignores the road-map and says, “always drive east” when a detour may force you to go south or north or even west for awhile.

More on this next week.

Yes, we Americans are by nature a resilient and hope-filled people. Now’s the time for some strategy.

 

– Column by David Cox

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