Stuck in beep­ing re­verse

The Covington News - - Opinion - MAU­RICE CARTER COLUM­NIST Mau­rice Carter is a Cov­ing­ton res­i­dent, a na­tive At­lantan, an IT con­sul­tant by pro­fes­sion, and an ac­tive community vol­un­teer at heart. He can be reached at mau­ricec7@bel­

From Tues­day night into Wed­nes­day morn­ing, com­mer­cial air­craft were di­verted from airspace over the south­east­ern U.S. when pi­lots re­ported hear­ing loud, per­sis­tent beep­ing in the area. Flights re­turned to nor­mal once FAA in­ves­ti­ga­tors con­firmed the beeps were com­ing from a backup alarm sound­ing as the State of Ge­or­gia shifted into re­verse. How­ever, they warn the noise may continue for at least a decade.

Ob­vi­ously not a true story, it’s also not an ex­ag­ger­a­tion.

I won’t crit­i­cize those who voted against T-SPLOST in Tues­day’s ref­er­en­dum. Amid con­fu­sion, mis­trust, and mis­in­for­ma­tion, I’m not sur­prised the mea­sure failed in our North­east Ge­or­gia re­gion and metro At­lanta. I’m more con­cerned with how we came to this and how we climb out of the siz­able hole we’ve dug for our­selves and the state.

What’s most trou­bling is peo­ple know we have a se­ri­ous trans­porta­tion prob­lem im­pact­ing the well­be­ing of Ge­or­gians. In Sun­day’s news­pa­per, be­fore the vote, the At­lanta Jour­nal Con­sti­tu­tion pub­lished polling of likely metro At­lanta vot­ers. An over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity — 70 per­cent — agreed “the re­gion’s traf­fic con­ges­tion is de­te­ri­o­rat­ing our qual­ity of life.” Only 27 per­cent dis­agreed. And, yet, Tues­day’s vote was nearly flipped — with 63 per­cent re­ject­ing the one-per­cent sales tax. Why?

Was it gen­eral op­po­si­tion to taxes? No, only 48 per- cent of those polled said, “I do not sup­port this or any other tax in­creases.”

Was it an is­sue with the spe­cific projects to be funded if the ref­er­en­dum passed? Ap­par­ently not, since 46 per­cent agreed and 47 per­cent dis­agreed with the state­ment that “when com­pleted the projects will re­sult in im­proved com­mutes and less con­ges­tion.”

The big dif­fer­ence was voter dis­trust of state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments to ef­fec­tively ex­e­cute. I heard that from op­po­nents, and it shows clearly in the polling, where only 34 per­cent be­lieved “State and lo­cal of­fi­cials will prop­erly man­age and im­ple­ment these trans­porta­tion projects.” Sixty per­cent dis­agreed. And, among those plan­ning to vote “No,” 91 per­cent did not trust of­fi­cials to end the tax when promised nor to limit spend­ing to the ap­proved list.

We can de­bate the role of gov­ern­ment un­til the end of time. But in­fra­struc­ture — es­pe­cially trans­porta­tion — is a pub­lic need only gov­ern­ment can fill. The no­tion of wealthy in­di­vid­u­als and busi­nesses in­de­pen­dently build­ing, main­tain­ing and oper­at­ing roads, rails, air­ports, side­walks, etc. is ab­surd. So, it can’t be we think gov­ern­ment shouldn’t do it, but rather we think our cur­rent gov­ern­ments can’t do it.

French his­to­rian and writer Alexis de Toc­queville said “peo­ple get the gov­ern­ment they de­serve.” That’s es­pe­cially true for 69 per­cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers statewide who avoided the bal­lot box en­tirely, even with four weeks of early vot­ing.

I won­der, though, if it’s not also true gov­ern­ments get the peo­ple they de­serve.

We all know we have a prob­lem. We agree it has se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions. But, we still can’t rally a uni­fied re­sponse. The un­der­ly­ing prob­lem is trust.

We have enough doc­u­mented cases of gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion to be skep­ti­cal. But, the prob­lem goes deeper. For decades, po­lit­i­cal con­tests have been de­cided in­creas­ingly by neg­a­tive, at­tack-based cam­paign­ing. Can­di­dates sel­dom run on their own cre­den­tials, ex­pe­ri­ence, ideas, or so­lu­tions. It’s much more ef­fec­tive to spend costly air­time and print space at­tack­ing the mer­its of the op­po­nent. Rather than build a case for one’s own can­di­dacy, it’s eas­ier to breed doubt, sus­pi­cion, and skep­ti­cism about the al­ter­na­tive. Cam­paign strate­gists have be­come masters at this.

At best, vot­ing is a lesser of two evils de­ci­sion where 70 per­cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers ab­di­cate the right to choose. Win­ners are a luke- warm se­lec­tion by 15-20 per­cent of the to­tal elec­torate, tak­ing of­fice un­der a cloud of deep-seated doubt that doesn’t mag­i­cally lift af­ter Elec­tion Day. Dis­trust lingers and fes­ters — even re­gard­ing the men and women you voted for.

Politi­cians gain of­fice di­vid­ing the pub­lic into camps, play­ing to nar­row self in­ter­ests, and breed­ing deep dis­trust of the op­po­si­tion. Unity is a ca­su­alty of war in the scorched-earth march to power. Small won­der those sur­viv­ing to be elected lead­ers are in­ca­pable of ral­ly­ing a deeply di­vided, dis­trust­ful pub­lic schooled to seek self in­ter­ests over shared vi­sion and com­mon good.

Many who ad­mire the ef­fi­ciency of the pri­vate sec­tor seem not to un­der­stand how it ac­tu­ally works. In busi­ness, win­ners con­front prob­lems di­rectly with de­ci­sive ac­tion. Those who hes­i­tate, hold­ing out for per­fect so­lu­tions, are swept un­der in the wake of the swift and sure. The suc­cess­ful forge ahead to cre­ate dis­tance from the pack with less than per­fect plans ex­e­cuted with in­spired unity.

For lack of clar­ity, unity, and ac­tion, we stall. Not mov­ing for­ward, we fall back.

Beep… Beep… Beep…

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