What we’ve learned (maybe)

Column by David Cox

As the political pendulum swings inexorably and (sooner or later) inevitably back towards the Democrats, I hope that we all have learned a few realities of life that tend to get forgotten, by one party, the other, or both.

Here are a few:

– Low taxes are good. Virginia ranks something like 41st in the nation for a state/local tax burden. That’s one of the reasons Forbes magazine ranked the Old Dominion as best for business, two years running. But:

– There are fates worse than taxes. Like exorbitant traffic fees atop fines, as the public is now realizing. Many are now saying that raising the gas tax (for the first time in many a year) might be more realistic and more fair – and more effective because then out-of-staters who use our roads will help pay their way when they buy our gas. In other words, taxes need to be kept as low as possible, but high enough to do the job. That’s because:

– You get what you pay for – or not. Virginia also ranks in the bottom 10 states in spending on mental health. The Virginia Tech tragedy made that ranking front-page news: Not that higher spending would automatically have kept Cho from his rampage, but who knows, it may have helped. At least we, the people, are awake to there being a problem.

– You can’t get something for nothing. Politicians thrived for a few decades on the idea that we can have it all – roads, schools, parks, police, and everything else, up to and including a war – without ever raising a tax. Just rid the state of the demonic trio of Waste, Fraud and Abuse (WFA for short) and you could pay for it all.

Sure, there was and is some WFA, and, more, some inefficiencies in government: Gov. Warner took on VDOT and produced a sleeker, more effective version. But WFA can’t account for everything; so the pols resorted to gimmicks like those traffic fees that everyone now says they hate.

– We’re all in this together. Thus, government cannot do everything. But it can do some things. Private enterprise can’t do everything either, nor nonprofits. But as businesses join with non-profits and government entities, great things can happen.

If old-line Democrats demanded too much of government, and GOP neo-conservatives expected too little. Reality exists somewhere in between. Let’s be realistic about what government CAN do, and what private enterprise CAN do – and what each cannot.

– You cannot hide from unpleasant realities forever. Sooner or later, there is an accounting. Some 37 million Americans – one of eight – live in poverty. Our society cannot thrive with that kind of economic and social disparity. No less important is the challenge to those somewhere between poverty and affluence, who face what the CNN personality Lou Dobbs calls “the assault on the middle class.

These must be of concern to everyone – in government, private enterprise, nonprofits, too. Hence:

– It really is the economy, stupid. We can’t ignore it, as Dems sometimes tend to do, nor can we presume it’ll thrive forever, as Republicans often believe. Remember what happened after 2000 and the dotcom bust? Nowadays, Virginia is booming thanks in no small part to federal defense spending. But some day this war will end, just as the housing boom has tapered off. Will we learn from the past, and be ready?

(The biblical story of Joseph in Egypt makes for relevant reading.)

– Power is an equal-opportunity corrupter. John Traficant is now in jail, a Democrat. So is Randy “Duke” Cunningham, a Republican. Two congressmen succumbed, regardless of party. Nor is wrongdoing limited to politics: in business, think Enronâ; in the church, think … well, you get the idea.

To rephrase Mr. Jefferson, “The price of honesty is eternal vigilance.” The Constitution installed checks and balances for a reason. We neglect them, and law enforcement at every level, to our peril.

– At the same time, hope springs eternal. We CAN do better. There ARE better ways. We DO learn, sometimes. With all of that, what sounds like a platitude really isn’t: Our best days may lie before us.

For that above all, I do hope so.

David Cox is the Democratic Party nominee in the 24th Senate District.


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