Another award-winning year

Posted: Jan 01, 2006 12:05 AM

Okay, so it's 2006. Is this really news? Did we think that 2007 might somehow slip in first?

For most, it's "another day, another holiday"; for columnists, it's an excuse for year-end reviews. Such reviews can be work. And I don't particularly like work. (Was I supposed to be taking notes?)

Appropriate, then, for me to begin with (let the dots stand for a drum roll) . . .

The 'We Just Make It Up' Award! This celebrates the most bald-faced denial of reality, law, or basic common sense during calendar year 2005. The competition was fierce.

The most obvious contender was the unbelievable but all-too-real U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. New London, the case about the city government that is taking homes through eminent domain only to hand the land over to a private developer who will build a complex producing more tax dollars for the politicians. This may be the most unpopular High Court decision in history.

But that's too easy.

Also in the running was the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Raich, where a majority of the court, including Justice Scalia, ruled that "interstate commerce" can include commerce that doesn't cross state lines and, thus, isn't "interstate" at all, and, in fact, can include activity that isn't commerce, either.

But 2005's winning departure from reality (or honesty) is far less well known. Back in spring, the Ray C. Bliss Institute for Applied Politics at the University of Akron released a poll of Ohioans' opinions on term limits. The Bliss Institute news release about the poll stated, "Ohioans may support lengthening terms from the current eight years to 12."

Turns out that the poll respondents were asked specifically, "Would a term limit of twelve years be acceptable to you?" And, by a better than two to one margin, Ohioans said, "No." Weakening term limits was unacceptable. But this established educational and policy group ignored the actual answers voters gave to their poll's questions and just made up their own spin. Award-winning!

The 'Who Cares About the People?' Award goes to those public officials who in their hubris and arrogance show the most disdain for the people who pay their salaries. This year, the Florida Legislature gets an honorable mention for going against the wishes of three-fourths of their constituents by placing an amendment on the 2006 ballot that if passed would weaken their term limits from eight to 12 years. Countless other examples abound . . .

But the hands-down winner is the St. Louis County Council. When polls showed citizens by a four-to-one margin opposed public subsidy of a baseball stadium, the council decided to subsidize a new stadium anyway. When voters gathered signatures to place a measure on the ballot to forbid public financing, the county council rushed to give the ball club the money before the election, issuing $45 million in bonds.

When another voter-initiated proposition was passed to prevent these disobedient politicians from paying off those bonds without permission, the council sued the voters, arguing that any default on the bonds they'd rushed through would torpedo the county's bond rating and impair the obligation of contract. A judge agreed and invalidated the plainly expressed will of the voters.

Now that's astonishing arrogance and diligent disdain for the voters! First place.

The Biggest Hypocrite Award goes to, well, the biggest hypocrite. The award hasn't left Washington, D.C. in decades, and this year the streak continues.

An honorable mention should go to Nebraska State Senator Dennis Byars, who when suing to overturn the term limits passed by voters, had the audacity to say, "What this is about is the Constitution. It's not about me." Thankfully, some hypocrisy is not rewarded. He lost his suit.

Then there is Senator John McCain, who wants to regulate political speech to weed out corruption and the appearance of corruption. But McCain doesn't seem to even be able to recognize such appearances up close. This past year Associated Press reported, "McCain's assistance [to Cablevision] in 2003 and 2004 was sandwiched around two donations of $100,000 each from Cablevision to The Reform Institute, a tax-exempt group that touts McCain's views and has showcased him at events. . . . The group also pays McCain's chief political advisor. . . ."

Funny, though, this story about McCain never got much media play.

On the other hand, our winner, Senator George Voinovich of Ohio, got tons of media attention when he fought the nomination of John Bolton to be our country's ambassador to the United Nations. Voinovich spoke forcefully against Bolton, saying he would be a detriment to U.S. foreign policy. The Senator even supposedly bucked the White House and his own party by refusing to vote to send Bolton's nomination to the Senate floor for a final vote. Instead of voting no, the Senator abstained.

So of course the media lionized him.

But it was all mere show. Voinovich had the power to stop Bolton's nomination cold. He could have simply voted no. But had he voted no and had the real courage to follow what sounded like courageous talk, Voinovich may have had to pay a political price — with the White House and his Republican colleagues angered. So, in usual congressional fashion, he spoke boldly NO, while he acted meekly to make the answer YES.

This is award-winning hypocrisy. And give a supporting award to the media.

The "For the Kids" Award can encompass so much of the political arena today, though education issues come first to mind. Last winter there was that erudite discussion about using purple ink to correct kid's papers, rather than red, to fully actualize a child's self-esteem. That's worthy of an honorable mention.

It's hard, however, to single out any one educator or program, the whole system being so bad. More information is more available to more people for less cost than ever before in human history, and yet our education establishment has trouble producing even meager results at ever-increasing cost.

But the winner is not from the field of education, but from public recreation. In Washington, DC this year, politicians quickly found more than half a billion extra tax dollars to build a new stadium and lure a professional baseball team to town. Meanwhile, the simple paperwork to allow one of the city's youth baseball teams to go to the Little League World Series was neglected by the bureaucracy and the kids lost the opportunity for which they had worked so long and hard.

Actions speak a thousand words.

The Quote of the Year Award is self-explanatory . . . or not.

Canada's Prime Minister Paul Martin deserves mention. He responded to a court determination that private healthcare alternatives must be permitted in Canada because Canadians were dying from the long delays systemic in the Canadian government healthcare system, with the compassion we've come to expect from the big government crowd: "We are not going to have a two-tier health care system in this country. Nobody wants that."

Except for the people dying. Oh, and a majority of Canadians. And a majority on Canada's Supreme Court.

But no aphorism sticks with me as much as the winner for 2005, a statement by a Prince George's County, Maryland council member. When discussing the council's efforts to use zoning to stop the growth of churches, this council member offered, "None of us are against God." But added, "We're losing tax money and retail."

The "Respect My Religious Beliefs Even If I Don't" Award is new this year and honors last year's gubernatorial campaign in Virginia, where I live.

Republican Jerry Kilgore launched TV ads saying that Democrat Tim Kaine opposed the death penalty. I, too, oppose the death penalty, but most Virginians seem to favor it. Kaine responded quickly. He told television viewers that he had a strongly held religious belief against capitol punishment.

One can respect another's beliefs without agreeing with them. But the question is, does Kaine respect his own beliefs? He went on to say that despite his deeply held beliefs he would, as governor, sign the execution orders when juries sentenced criminals to death, thus setting aside his religious view that the death penalty is the unjustified killing of a human being.

Many pundits slashed at Kilgore for running the initial negative ads; some even suggested he had unfairly besmirched Kaine's religion. But Kilgore made no mention of religion. It was Kaine who claimed to have strong religious beliefs, only to turn around and set those beliefs aside in order to win votes.

And win those votes he did, enough to win the election. And he won this award. But it seems to me he lost something much more valuable. It reminds me of Ralph Waldo Emerson's famous line, "At last, nothing is sacred but the integrity of one's own mind," and the words from the Gospel of Mark, "What should it profit a man if he gain the whole World and lose his Soul?"

Let there be a positive award each year. So 2005's Idea of the Year Award goes to Cato Institute chairman William Niskanen, who pointed out that cutting taxes without limiting government spending has not limited the insatiable growth of government.

In other words, "It's the spending, stupid!"

Have a happy and healthy 2006. May all your rewards and awards be earnestly given, without a drop of irony.