Thursday, January 29, 2015

Are we really a nation of "the worst" governance?

Lots of folks looking at our governor, our legislature and are congress are quick to use the term "worst." But isn't a matter of one's perspective?

Are we really a nation of "the worst" governance?

"The worst" of anything is really a relative term.

So when people, pundits, good-government groups and publications toss around valuations of officeholders and governing bodies, they should be viewed through all perspectives.

There are those, for example, suggesting Gov. Corbett is "the worst" governor in modern Pennsylvania history. And one could argue his failure to get any big agenda items passed, his ham-handed handling of, well, just about everything, and his failure to even keep top aides (three chiefs of staff in three years) suggest the title is apt.

He's been ID'ed as the most vulnerable incumbent governor in America. And the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) just named him among "the worst" governors in the nation.

To be fair, CREW named 18 governors with failings, or close to half the total, which again shows how easy it is to make "the worst" lists.

In the same vein, The Washington Post suggests our current Congress is "the least productive ever," noting that it does next to nothing and has passed fewer bills than any Congress since anyone started to keep such stats -- 66 years ago.

Certainly, one could then say our current Congress is "the worst."

And, as to the Pennsylvania Legislature, well, I assume I don't even have to list its shortcomings or offer examples of its ineptitude.

But here's the thing. There is, I suspect, a fairly solid percentage of Americans and Pennsylvanians for whom "the worst" is just fine.

Stick with me. When people are polled on questions of politicians or legislative bodies' performances, the natural response is to go negative. This is because, well, of course we don't like how our electeds perform.

But for many, non-performance in government is just the ticket. There are those, and I suspect there are a lot of those, who cleave to the belief that "government is best which governs least," a quote most often attributed to Thomas Jefferson (although the Website monticello.org says Jefferson likely didn't say or write that even if he agreed with it).

So for those who like the fact Corbett hasn't raised any new state taxes in three years, he clearly isn't "the worst" governor in modern state history, or even among the 18 worst governors in America.

For those who are happy Congress hasn't acted on guns, immigration, sequester or passed any new stimulus bills, for example, its being "least productive" is a good thing.

And for those Pennsylvanians not interested in paying more taxes and fees to fund highway and bridge repair or increased education spending or seeing pension reform or privatizing booze, our Legislature's governing least isn't "the worst" that can happen.

See? It's a matter of perspective.

 

 

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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