Political Discourse In These Cynical Times

America is a cynical place right now. And why not? It seems every institution we once respected is crumbling. County Commissioners taking bribes, Baseball stars taking steroids, Church leaders abusing children, Secret Service Agents who refuse to pay the hookers they spent the night with. Everywhere you turn it seems, corruption manifests itself in one form or another. In fact an annual Gallup survey released recently shows only three institutions with strong majority support: the military, small business, and the police.

Perhaps nowhere is our cynicism more acute than in the political system. Distrust of elected and government officials is widespread. According to Gallup, barely over a third (37%) say they have a “great deal/quite a lot” of confidence in the Presidency, which is most trusted among governmental institutions. Others fare worse: Supreme Court (37%), public schools (29%), criminal justice system (29%), and Congress (13%). Couple American’s lack of trust in public institutions with a growing polarization of political views and the outlook for resolution of these problems look even worse. The Pew Center’s 2012 American Values Survey says:

As Americans head to the polls this November, their values and basic beliefs are more polarized along partisan lines than at any point in the past 25 years. Unlike in 1987, when this series of surveys began, the values gap between Republicans and Democrats is now greater than gender, age, race or class divides. (emphasis mine)

These surveys confirm what most people intuitively feel – Our political system is riddled with serious problems and our nation is very divided.

How should we respond? Reasonable people condemn things like SWATting and burglary and arson (assuming these incidents are politically motivated). Reasonable people would also condemn threats of violence against an elected official. We should all pledge to oppose politically related violence. It’s easy to decry violence but much more is needed if we are to improve our politics.

I think it begins with trust. Elected Officials like me need to earn the trust of the voters. To be sure, I’ve earned a measure of trust. I was elected in 2010 and face no opposition this year. I take that as having earned a measure of trust from my constituents. But as a whole my constituents are no different from other Americans in their skepticism of political institutions.

This lack of trust manifests itself in crucial ways. Charlie recently wrote, correctly in my opinion, about lack of trust dooming the proposal to privatize and/or offer commercial flights at Gwinnett’s Briscoe Field. Erick says he won’t vote for the TIA because he doesn’t trust GDOT. Jim Galloway writes that lack of trust is harming efforts to pass the TIA among voters in Fulton and Dekalb counties. No matter your position on these issues, I hope you would agree that lack of trust is making it harder to find solutions to difficult issues.

So how do we earn the public’s trust? I have some ideas but I would rather hear from you.

70 comments

  1. johnl says:

    Buzz:

    I respect you reaching out as an elected official. Trust is THE issue. With the Legislature, it’s very simple. The public sees things like an unwillingness to embrace ethics reform (lobbyist limits) or things like term limits. We see an unwillingness to tackle the tough issues: tossing the transportation problems to the voters (TSPLOST) instead of doing it yourselves, which is what you were elected to do. Indeed, if TSPLOST fails, it will be used by the Legislature as an excuse to continue to do nothing. We see legislators bragging about their power as a license to do what they want (“We have been doing this for 20 years, and I still keep getting re-elected”) instead of using it wisely.

    Real courage and leadership is needed in the Legislature.

  2. saltycracker says:

    We being a collective term, we are far past the “let’s talk” and dysfunctional behavior rehab programs, it is time to start acting properly. But why do y’all want exhaustive political discourse to debate over just what are good behavior boundaries ? We thought you knew them when we elected you, you said so, we believed. The only thing that changed is we elected you and you now feel the intoxication of it.

    Let’s start with, pay your taxes and legal obligations or be suspended/ineligible.
    Suspend committee members with any questional issues with their oversight responsibilities.
    Stop accepting “gifts.”

    Then we can move onto the big stuff like a tax code overhaul and a hundred more personal pet projects.

    • saltycracker says:

      To be clear “behavior” is more than ethics, it is representation as intended in this Republic
      in sorting through our various need/want lists.

    • Jimmie says:

      I agree. They need to hold each other accountable. Refuse to allow the few bad apples to spoil the whole lot. Police one another. I’ve had enough of it. Refuse to cross the line onto the unethical side. From the POTUS all the way to our crooked County Commissioners. I think this says it well….We’re as mad as hell, and we’re not going to take this anymore!

      • saltycracker says:

        I thought I gave you three starters and a kickoff personal one (tax code) before everyone gets to their personal list like TSPLOST, gerrymandering and such….

        • saltycracker says:

          ok in addition to the three listed real issues I’ve added two needs:
          1. Term limits
          2. Redistricting by zip code, city, county, trade area and state in a logical concentric approach with the only citizen consideration being quantity.

          Got a bunch of wants starting with spending and financial guidelines.

  3. analogkid says:

    I agree with what johnl says above minus the bit about term limits. I’ll expound a bit on the transportation thing though as it is emblematic of the fear Georgia’s elected officials have of actually governing. At some point you guys in charge are going to have to tell the tea partiers and the Grover Norquists of the world, “Look, we have some of the lowest taxation rates per capita in the entire country (http://taxfoundation.org/article/state-tax-collections-capita-fiscal-year-2010). You’ve done your job. Unfortunately, we have transportation needs that must be funded. We have (and are going to) cut spending as much as possible, but at some point taxes may need to be raised slightly in order to cover these projects that are vital to Georgia’s continuing prosperity.”

    I will also say that making yourself available on this forum goes a long way toward building trust, so thank you for that.

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      “I will also say that making yourself available on this forum goes a long way toward building trust, so thank you for that.”

      +1

    • CobbGOPer says:

      “Look, we have some of the lowest taxation rates per capita in the entire country (http://taxfoundation.org/article/state-tax-collections-capita-fiscal-year-2010). You’ve done your job. Unfortunately, we have transportation needs that must be funded. We have (and are going to) cut spending as much as possible, but at some point taxes may need to be raised slightly in order to cover these projects that are vital to Georgia’s continuing prosperity.”

      And the Grover Norquists of the world, along with many of us here, would respond: “Well, if you had been spending responsibly while you were in charge this last DECADE, instead of sending money to the GDOT to be sucked down a black hole (or spending it on fishing tourism programs among other things), then this transportation predicament would not be so pressing, would it? How about YOU take a little responsibility for your actions in the legislature that have led us to this point, eh?”

      • analogkid says:

        Really hate it when people say this, but… you just proved my point. We’re 49th in overall taxation and 50th in transportation spending and you’re still “taxed enough already.”

        Let me be clear: I oppose the TIA (as I assume you do). However, I oppose it because the legislature has abdicated its duty to select projects and adequately fund them. I also support ending wasteful spending (e.g., Go Fish), but at the end of the day it’s probably not going to be enough to fund everything that needs to be done. Even eliminating entire government agencies probably won’t get you there, but I’m all ears.

    • seekingtounderstand says:

      The first thing my state senator did was put a tax on used cars, so do not say they do not have the leadership, it just has to be for self interest. As in being the owner of a dealership.
      They will vote for raising the gas tax as soon as TSPLOST is defeated, just watch.
      They will be raising taxes to pay for the new healthcare law.

      • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

        I know, I know…It’s the usual unimaginative and uncreative form of financing in the form of the good ‘ol standby of massive tax increases that even self-styled supposedly “conservative” politicians only know seem how to embrace.

        Heck, with as much as I despise endless tax increases, at least the Democrats seemingly will tell you up front that they want to jack up your taxes through the roof forever and ever and ever and ever…

        While Republicans seemingly won’t hesitate to lie to you, tell you that they will lower your taxes, that they will never increase your taxes and then hit you with a massive tax increase on the back end.

        In other words, Democrats stab you in the front while Republicans stab you in the back.

  4. xdog says:

    Good morning, Buzz. I’ll follow the lead of previous posters.

    How would you describe the path a newly minted rep has to walk to maintain his personal integrity and his pledges to his constituency, and at the same time keep himself in good shape with his party,his leadership, and his future political prospects?

  5. John Vestal says:

    Adhere to your oath, uphold the Constitution and defend it against radicals at both ends of the political spectrum (as both are its enemies and no friends of liberty) and be responsible stewards of the trust which has been afforded you.

    And dress nice.

  6. Scott65 says:

    The biggest problem as I see it? Politicians lie…plain and simple. Mitch McConnel got on Fox and claimed the tax levied by the healthcare law mandate “will be the greatest tax on the middle class in history”. I know thats not true, and so do most of you. You only pay it if you dont purchase insurance and its only $100, but there is a group of people who will grasp onto that statement because it fits in with what they WANT to believe not what is. There is just no accountability because there is a large group that WANTS to believe the lies (and trust me…politicians are not so stupid as to know they are lying). That begets the anti-science anti-knowledge mentality we have now (elites…oh no!). Just take a look at Politifact.com, Factcheck.org and see the outright lies politicians tell to gin up their base or push a corporate/moral agenda.
    Second biggest…on EVERY level of government, those that represent us do not act in the best interests of the people they represent (which leads to #1 above). At some point the propaganda is gonna come crashing down, cause the truth will stand when the worlds on fire (a nice little biblical phrase from a christian friend of mine)

    • Calypso says:

      “You only pay it if you dont purchase insurance and its only $100, but there is a group of people who will grasp onto that statement because it fits in with what they WANT to believe not what is.”

      Actually Scott65 the penalty is “…$695 a person in 2016 or 2.5 percent of a household’s income, whichever is greater…”

      So, are YOU lying now, plain and simple, as you put it?

        • Calypso says:

          “The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that in 2016, two years after the mandate takes effect, about 4 million Americans out of about 21 million uninsured would pay the penalty; the rest would be exempted for hardship, religious beliefs and other reasons. The penalty — $695 a person in 2016 or 2.5 percent of a household’s income, whichever is greater — would be half as much for children and indexed for inflation; a cap would apply for families.”

          Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/news/us/tax-or-penalty-both-campaigns-are-quick-to-define-courts-health-care-ruling-642690/#ixzz1zOFb2oNH

          • Scott65 says:

            Also…you misquoted the article…it does not say what you wrote anywhere.
            The only part vaguely like what you are trying to say is:
            The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that in 2016, two years after the mandate takes effect, about 4 million Americans out of about 21 million uninsured would pay the penalty; the rest would be exempted for hardship, religious beliefs and other reasons. The penalty — $695 a person in 2016 or 2.5 percent of a household’s income, whichever is greater — would be half as much for children and indexed for inflation; a cap would apply for families.

        • Calypso says:

          From Forbes:

          “Beginning in 2014, the cost of not purchasing health insurance for a family of four will be $285 or 1 percent of income, whichever is greater. By 2016, this penalty rises to $2,085 or 2.5 percent of income.”

          • Scott65 says:

            you are a year early but basically correct…my original premise stands…and you helped to prove it…thanks!

              • Scott65 says:

                no…just your take on it…and btw…rules here say no personal attacks…if you cant keep it civil and make your point its against the rules as I’ve come to comprehend them (with my limited intellect)

                • CobbGOPer says:

                  “Beginning in 2014, the cost of not purchasing health insurance for a family of four will be $285 or 1 percent of income, whichever is greater. By 2016, this penalty rises to $2,085 or 2.5 percent of income.”

                  What part of that isn’t clear? Sounds pretty clear-cut to me.

      • Scott65 says:

        Q What sort of penalties will I face if I don’t have health insurance?

        A Taxpayers will be required to indicate on their tax returns whether they have health insurance that meets minimal benefits standards, according to the Commonwealth Fund. If consumers do not have insurance by 2014, they would owe $95, or 1 percent of taxable income, whichever is greater. The penalty rises to $325, or 2 percent of taxable income in 2015, and then $695, or 2.5 percent of taxable income in 2016, up to a maximum of $2,085 per family.

        So, as you see…we are both correct…but it is still by far NOT the largest tax increase on the middle class and by 2016…most people will have insurance because it will be cheaper than not having it

        • Calypso says:

          You are still wrong, unless you make only $9,500 per year. It is the greater of $95 or 1% of income in 2014 going up to the greater of $695 or 2.5% of income in 2016 and then indexed to inflation (read more than the numbers currently show).

          So I disagree that we are both correct. I am correct. Your ‘Pants Are On Fire’ ergo you must be a politician, right?

          • Scott65 says:

            I am right in that it is not the largest tax increase ever on the middle class…whatever you want to believe…go ahead. You wont pay it, nor will I, nor will probably anyone who reads this because they have insurance…so its a red herring anyway. You baited me and I fell for it…stupidity on my part…so are you still right?

          • Scott65 says:

            not splitting hairs but 1% of TAXABLE income…of which many a millionaire pays ZERO…this is almost comical

            • Harry says:

              When the insurance companies and pharmaceuticals have to start paying the government annual confiscatory “fees” in the tens of billions and promptly pass them through to the middle class, is that not an additional middle class “tax”? Please, you people quit “dissembling” about the real cost.

  7. greencracker says:

    I’d like to see an attitude change about open records on the fed & state level, specifically giant datasets that can help us identify trends, track problems, make decisions.

    the UK, for example, has decided to publish and push out public data and see what happens.

    People, private people, are using it to set up all kinds of fun and useful things (i.e., not journalism). like a phone app that lets you see how close the next bus is to arriving, or seeing schools’ performance records or reporting accessibility problems. (like, how often are you in a 2-story marta station and the only elevator is broken? Oh, sorry if you can’t use stairs. apparently that means you can’t use marta either. But in the UK, you have an app to tap on a map and complain immediately at least)
    http://www.economist.com/node/21552269

    We have great analytical tools, free mapping software etc. Let’s throw some data in there and see what happens.

    Legally, obviously, data is open public record but what’s needed is a _philosophical_ change in city/state/federal government that _wants_ data to be free, published and in a useful form, not a printed 1,000-page document.

  8. Doug Deal says:

    If government was not so big and intrusive, it would be easier to trust. If I asked someone to watch my $10 bill, I would trust almost anyone, but a satchel filled with $1 million, probably no one.

    Similarly, the government has grown by actions of the left and right to the point where ever detail of every second of every day is touched by it. Who can trust anyone in government when it has gotten to that point? I vote Republican and support Republicans, but I dread what they are going to do when in power because it will inevitably lead to bring the Democrats back, who will do things I view as much much worse. I don’t want to live that way, and I assume my fellow voters feel the same way.

  9. freebird says:

    This reminds me of one of Jon Huntsman’s campaign themes – that’s not saying it’s a lost cause or anything :-), but regaining trust once you’ve lost it is a long, hard slog for sure.

    If politicians are supposed to good at anything, by way of their vocation, it should be in communicating with their constituents and in forging coalitions around wise policy decisions. These days that seems to have morphed into who’s best at spinning the news cycle in their favor, which might help their faction for a few days or weeks, but just contributes to public cynicism in the long run.

    While a U.S. Senator, for example, cannot hope to personally speak with more than a minuscule percentage of his or her constituency (except perhaps through the Internet and social media), local politicians have an advantage of being able to directly interact much more with folks in their district, and that should help lay some of the groundwork for building trust, which would then need to be built upon by acting responsibly in the legislature and explaining why those actions are in the long-term interests of your constituents. There are almost always trade-offs with any decision, so rather than pretend it’s all upside and the critics are just nuts, it would be refreshing to see politicians explain that they weighed the trade-offs and came down on one side or the other. No one said representative democracy was easy.

    That is especially needed these days, as we deal with more explicit trade-offs than in the boom years, where politicians could manage to both cut taxes and increase spending. See: http://www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/the-politics-of-loss

    That being said, a healthy skepticism on the part of the voting public, combined with our 1st Amendment protections, is always going to be needed to keep things in check. Some unsavory folks are going to get elected, and others will fall to temptation once in office. Human beings, even those with good intentions, make mistakes. The problem with public cynicism as opposed to merely a healthy skepticism is that cynics would say “this [insert problem here] is the natural order of things and anyone who says otherwise is just naïve” and so there’s no hope for anything better. I would say a heathy skepticism means you don’t trust what people tell you by default, but rather they have to earn that trust, especially when they may be operating in an environment where there can be incentives to mislead you. Contributing to public cynicism actually damages the republic, because it reduces the percentage of the electorate that’s willing engage in the political process to hold elected representatives accountable for their misdeeds. I don’t want the “new normal” to be a higher level of corruption combined with less accountability.

    So, thank you Buzz for engaging with the public to solicit ideas about how to arrest this trend.

  10. John Konop says:

    Gerrymandering districts is a major factor. As districts become more red or blue we see more corruption via lack of checks and balances. I would suggest more controls over public money agnostic to party.

    For Example:

    1). Strict rules on office holders being able to profit off being in office ie insider trading, profits from sitting on private company boards…Btw I read the average congressmen did 60 percent better in the stock market than evan experts.

    2) Strict guidelines on public/private projects that have put tax payers at greater risk than the private company. This irrational policy has lost massive amounts of tax payers money………

    3) Strict guidelines on spending by Congressional based on it being tied to GDP.

    4) Replace taxes with user fees tied to a budget when appropiate.

    5) Speak out against demonization of opponents in debates……..

    6) If T spoilt fails let a non political board make statewide recommendation for projects over office holders using it for politics……….

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      “4) Replace taxes with user fees tied to a budget when appropiate.”

      Yes! Yes!! Yes!!!

      Taxes cannot rise forever and ever and ever and ever…Let those who use a service pay the costs of its operation…What a novel idea!

      Tie that into your #6 suggestion and instead of attempting to (inadequately) fund transportation upgrades with seemingly never-ending tax increases of some kind, let’s utilize distance-based user fees on roads and transit to make each major piece of transportation infrastructure effectively self-funding (while abolishing the state gas tax for all Georgia drivers and keeping the gas tax in place on all out-of-state drivers, substantially-but NOT excessively- raising it and indexing the gas tax to inflation by levying it as a percentage instead of as a set amount per-gallon that never rises with time or the price of gas).

      Utilizing user fees that cover the cost of constructing, operating, maintaining and expanding a piece of transportation infrastructure along with a substantially, but NOT excessively, increased gas tax on the out-of-state vehicles that inflict a great deal of the problems on our Interstate system is an infintely more effective way of funding our transportation needs than a sales tax increase that would only fund a mere fraction of those transportation needs.

      • CobbGOPer says:

        Yeah, I don’t have kids and never will, but the government is never going to let me stop paying taxes for schools…

        • John Konop says:

          Adam Smith the father of the free market system, advocated for public education for economic reasons. If your society does not educate and train the masses than it will drag the economy and you will pay for it one way or another.

          • Three Jack says:

            I bet Adam Smith would rescind that thought if he were alive to see what government education has produced.

  11. Patrick T. Malone says:

    Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” There is a pervasive lack of personal responsibility in this country and that allows the problems you describe to exist. There are too many people who are so apathetic that they haven’t registered to vote or are registered and do not bother to cast a ballot. Couple that with the vast majority of voters who cast their vote for a.) whose name is first on the ballot, b.)a woman or a man, c.) a D or a R, d.) an incumbent or new comer, e.) the most articulate candidate, f.) the prettiest or most handsome g.) the one who tells us what we want to hear or h.) any of the other superficial reasons voters actual use in selecting their candidate and then are frustrated when they find out who they elected.

    We don’t take the time or make the effort to really educate ourselves, which then leads to frustration and since we clearly cannot bring ourselves to blame ourselves we say we don’t trust our institutions, our politicians, our governments, etc.

    It is much easier to blame others and say you have to “earn our trust” than it is to get involved and really understand who you about to elect to represent your interests.

    Of the 87% who distrust Congress the vast majority like their Senators or Representative but it’s the other Senators or Representatives who they mistrust.

    We trust the military and the police because they protect us from ourselves and we trust small businesses because they are the “little guy” vs “the man”.

    We are the enemy and we will continue our slide to mediocrity until we take responsibility for our own actions and make the changes necessary to fix ourselves.

    • CobbGOPer says:

      I don’t disagree. But honestly, we have journalists who are paid to do nothing but pay attention to politics, and even they can’t keep up with everything. You expect a majority of Americans who are working full-time, with a house, kids, and myriad other personal responsibilities to spend every waking moment of their free time studying politics? Not everyone in this country has as much time as all you party hack-tivists out there.

      Besides the fact that most of the distrust Americans have about politics directly relates to the constant inability or flat refusal of politicians to actually do what they say they will do when asking for your vote.

      That’s why I have a tough time voting Republican anymore. Ever since I’ve been politically-aware, the GOP has preached less government and lower taxes. And they never deliver. If they do, it’s a half-a$$ed attempt which still picks winners and losers and ends up at the mercy of the Democrats when they inevitably take their turn at the wheel (after people get sick of broken GOP promises). And when the Democrats inevitably fail to live up to their promises, we throw them out and try the GOP again. It’s a vicious circle that will only be broken when we can develop some alternative political representation that will force the Democrats and GOP to stop taking their voters for granted and also force them to start actually upholding promises they make to the independent middle.

      • seenbetrdayz says:

        That’s why I have a tough time voting Republican anymore. Ever since I’ve been politically-aware, the GOP has preached less government and lower taxes. And they never deliver. If they do, it’s a half-a$$ed attempt which still picks winners and losers and ends up at the mercy of the Democrats when they inevitably take their turn at the wheel (after people get sick of broken GOP promises). And when the Democrats inevitably fail to live up to their promises, we throw them out and try the GOP again. It’s a vicious circle that will only be broken when we can develop some alternative political representation that will force the Democrats and GOP to stop taking their voters for granted and also force them to start actually upholding promises they make to the independent middle.

        ^this

        Good ideas won’t always win elections, but broken promises will almost always lose elections.

        • Calypso says:

          Good ideas won’t always win elections, but broken promises will almost always lose re-elections.

          FTFY

          It usually works the first time around.

  12. SallyForth says:

    Thanks, Buzz, for asking our input. My observation is that working-class ordinary citizens feel helpless frustration in the face of a river of money pouring billions every year into political campaigns, contributions and gifts. The vast majority of Americans may not be rich, but they are not stupid. The public knows there is no such thing as a free lunch. Money from wealthy individuals, PAC’s and trade or professional associations buy access and favors, ensuring that their special interests will have input in writing and administering laws that govern our nation. Ordinary citizens do not have lobbyists or any means of counterbalancing influence – they watch the greed and corruption of the elite, and this breeds frustration and distrust in the general public.

    The only way to restore trust is for our elected officials to stand together and stop the buying of our government. Throw out all the complex current do-nothing “laws”, and pass short and sweet (with strong enforcement penalties) laws to cap campaign contributions. Put all candidates on an even playing field to convince voters of their knowledge, credentials, courage and ability – instead of having millions of dollars in ad campaigns that sell them to the public like a car or soft drink. Throw out current b/s rules on gifts and contributions to elected officials – write a short, sweet law that caps at a modest amount and no cumulative effect. Write in a severe penalty that any elected official who breaches this law has automatically vacated their seat, and let the public elect a replacement. No long, involved bunch of crap riddled with loopholes.

    Drastic times call for drastic measures. In the last 235 years our nation has evolved right back into the system from which our ancestors fought to free us – taxation without representation and government ruled by the wealthy and royalty. Today America’s wealthy/royalty use their money to manipulate elections and elected officials. We the people end up having to live with whatever the ultra-rich decide in their own best interest – just like our ancestors did.

    Ironically, we are approaching the 4th of July, when we celebrate the sacrifices of our ancestors and their establishment of a democratic republic free of upper-crust tyranny. We are now back to a “rich get richer off the backs of everybody else” society that Paul Revere and the guys would recognize immediately. Despite all the flowery oratory, the public can plainly see who is pulling the strings while, for example, an unfettered insurance industry keeps cleaning our clocks on premiums and having their company bureaucrats make medical decisions for our lives. [On that issue, I’m much rather have a public employee deciding, cause everybody knows they are not profit oriented! The medical and insurance industries should not make a killing for keeping people alive. Yet the talking heads and multi-billion dollar p/r campaigns convince the public that spending a comparatively modest amount to help Americans have affordable health care is bad, while nobody makes a peep about the trillions we continue spending on endless wars.]

    A day off from work, fireworks and a bunch of patriotic songs and speeches this Wednesday are fine to do in remembrance of our ancestors’ accomplishments. But for our elected officials to rekindle the spirit of 1776 by re-establishing our true representative form of government for we the people would be a fitting tribute to our founding fathers and begin re-establishing the public trust that our government will act in the PUBLIC interest.

    • freebird says:

      I’m all for laws being short enough that legislators can actually read and understand what they are voting on, but, so long as Citizens United remains the law of the land, there is no way for our state or federal legislators to address the money issue. Not that I think all that money is being put to nefarious ends – though I do agree that at the very least that perception is widespread enough that it has a corrosive effect on the public trust.

      In any case, the reason so many groups throw money at elections, is precisely because so much taxing, spending and regulatory power has become concentrated in D.C. over the years. To paraphrase Willie Sutton, they do it because that’s where the payoff is. At the end of the day, it’s all about the incentives.

      That’s why I have to disagree with you about moving from a private insurance model to a public single payer model. Sure, a government bureaucrat is not concerned about making a profit. But I think there’s a broad misconception about the role of profits. Quality, cost-effective care is not a given under all economic models, any more than we can fix our economy by mandating a 30 hour work-week. Profits exist to spur innovation. In a competitive marketplace, if I can invest my own resources and passion into creating a system of healthcare delivery that both consumes less resources (eliminates waste) and delivers a higher quality of care that attracts more customers, why shouldn’t society reward me for my efforts and implicitly encourage other competitors to follow suit (or be swallowed up as I use my profits to expand my successful model into new markets)?

      Ok, I’m getting off topic a bit, but to come full circle, it seems that the public has also lost its trust to some extent in free market capitalism, which to me is a bigger problem than losing faith in government, which historically Americans have always been at least somewhat distrustful of.

      • SallyForth says:

        freebird, I agree that C/U is bad and complicates the problem at hand, but disagree with your statement “…so long as Citizens United remains the law of the land, there is no way for our state or federal legislators to address the money issue. ”
        SCOTUS held that the 1st Amendment prohibits government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions. This means they can run all sorts of scummy ads for or against their pet projects or politicians — it lets corps and unions run wild and free, but Citizens United does not prohibit holding the politicians themselves accountable. So Buzz and other elected officials can sally forth with some strict provisions such as I suggested, and crank up some public trust again!

        Re your comments about the single payer insurance model, with the U.S. 37th in the world on health care (not even 5th or 6th!), I think we can all agree that the current gazillion payer model is not working. Profit in business is not a bad thing, but as previously stated, I really don’t think doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies should make a killing to keep people alive. Health care is not like any other industry in the world – it is literally a life or death situation, and should be held to a higher standard far above profit.

        And yes, people have lost trust in free market capitalism because of its inability to police itself and control its greedy abuse of the consumer. In the area of which you speak, health care, insurance companies now have clerks deciding what procedures your doctor can do, changing your medications by refusing to cover what the doctor prescribes and making the pharmacy give you something else, making hospitals toss you out only a couple of days after serious surgery such as open-heart, etc. out the wazoo of abusing you – the premium payer and patient – sometimes to life-threatening extents. This is not acceptable! In our nation, single-payer Medicare has proven far more efficient (only 2-3% administrative cost with the rest going to paying for care, as opposed to roughly 30% admin fee for private insurers), has government oversight of the insurance companies with whom they contract as third-party administrators, and seems like a good model to at least try as an alternative to the gazillion payer model.
        But fixing the loss of trust created by greed in free market capitalism is a discussion for another time.

  13. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Thank you very much, Buzz, for being seemingly one of the few politicians in the state (or for that matter, the nation) that really wants to address this issue of how the lack of ethics amongst our elected leaders has led to an unprecedented level of mistrust in our government institutions.

  14. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    “So how do we earn the public’s trust? I have some ideas but I would rather hear from you.”

    A really good start in politicians earning the public’s trust would simply be not lying to the public and stealing taxpayer money.

    Being open and honest and being straight-up with the public by telling the public just how bad a problem is (like our ongoing transportation and water horrors) instead of trying to sugarcoat it or pretend that it doesn’t exist.

    Another good way to earn the public’s trust would be to show some long overdue leadership on some of our most pressing issues like transportation and water instead of cowardly pushing the problem off on voters to decide by asking them if they will approve yet another unimaginative tax increase to inadequately fund our overwhelming transportation needs.

    Politicians can also earn back the public’s trust by not actively whoring themselves out to the highest bidder at every opportunity, something that could begin to be addressed locally in the State of Georgia with Buzz’s suggestion of a total gift ban for legislators and government employees as the absolute best way to earn the public’s trust is to totally and completely avoid any appearance of impropriety by accepting absolutely no gifts whatsoever.

    • freebird says:

      It might be a hard pill for the public to swallow in this economy, but I’d be in favor of some compromise legislation that would, in exchange for an outright gift ban and the elimination of per diem expenses, raise the salaries of legislators by enough to insure against most of these types of temptations.

      Of course, politically speaking, that’d probably be a non-starter, unless maybe the idea was pushed by some sort of citizens for government reform group. Perhaps that could be put to a referendum.

  15. joe says:

    Buzz,

    You ask an interesting question, and a very complicated one to answer. The short answer is to stop doing all of the things that you know are wrong.

    At the national level, I would ask that POTUS, SCOTUS, all Senators and Representatives read the entire Constitution every day. I would hope that some of them might understand that there were specific limits to both their powers and responsibilities. Stop spending my money on pork. Think about the country, not about your party.

    At the state level, I would ask that the first thing to be eliminated is petty bickering. If the R’s want it, the D’s don’t. If the House wants it, the senate doesn’t. Things should not be about which chairman has the most power. There are probably several dozen Georgia politicians that need to be in jail. Put them there, I don’t care whose friend they are, or how they vote. Stop spending my money on pork. Think about the state, not about your party.

    At the county level (I live in Henry), there is so much wrong that everybody should just resign and let us start over. Stop funneling money to your pals. Think about the county, not about your friends.

    At every level, you are wasting MY money. Stop it! Trust can only come after demonstrated reliability, and if one congressman betrays that reliability, then alll trust is lost. Kind of like ‘one bad apple spoils the entire barrel.’

    At every level, start with jail time, jail time, jail time.

  16. seenbetrdayz says:

    Well, we have a system in place to allow for self-government at the local level if nothing can be accomplished on the national level. I think Americans have really forgotten what it means to be a republic.

    Here’s why I think our nation is bitterly divided:

    We have over 100,000,000 voters trying to vote to steer the federal government in a direction each wants. The U.S. was never meant to be a direct democracy, it was supposed to be a republic of 50 states and innumerable county and municipal governments designed to represent various peoples of different regions, because that was the most practical way to have a representative government. If you want direct democracy at the local level, that’s fine. That’s what we usually do with things like SPLOSTS. But, if we screw up and implement a bad program or tax at the Federal level, there’s no where to run to in order to get away from it. We can’t even ‘vote with our feet’ on the major issues, anymore, because everything that comes out of Washington is “one-size-fits all, . . . or else“.

    So, it’s predictable that when 51% of the people can tell 49% of the people what to do, and the kicker is that they’re all stuck in the same room together, tempers will flare, violence may even erupt.

    • SallyForth says:

      Good point, sbd. A democratic republic is a great concept, but difficult for most people to wrap their brain around. Your comments take us back to what I said earlier – we must have elected officials who actually represent the people who elected them.

  17. Dave Bearse says:

    It’s a little late, after 30 years of politican’s building careers and campaigning that government is bloated, inefficient, corrupt and untrustworthy, to inquire how to build trust. Many of today’s politicans are simply delivering the government of their beliefs.

    For starters, serve the people, all of the people, instead of a subset of constituency and the leadership. Craft districts that serve the people instead of yourselves. Don’t insult people’s intelligence with the claim that extravagant gifts have no bearing on access (or that politican are a apecial class of people, that unlike everyone else, are unswayed by extravagant gifts).

    Unfortunately, the main thing a Georgian General Assembly incumbent without opposition earns is campaign money. Incumbents without opposition can as well claim its ordained they continue in office, since lightning hasn’t struck.

  18. JoEllen Smith says:

    I think the problem are the legislators who have looked at their service as a lifetime career and their main source of income. I think “Salty Cracker” above said it best: “Suspend committee members with any questional issues with their oversight responsibilities.” The Committee Chairs have too much power to be “Consulting” for, i.e. making a living off of, the same people whose bills they oversee. And we have no access due to a lack of disclosure. It’s simply become an alternate source of collecting additional money from the same lobbyists and special interests, and to avoid reporting it. I’m starting to see the wisdom of term limits.

  19. cheapseats says:

    Lots of good ideas here and a few comments too general to be taken seriously but, I tend to agree that Step 1 is to prevent the gerrymandering of districts at all levels that allow politicians to choose their voters rather than voters choosing their representatives. That erodes trust faster than anything I can think of and profoundly discourages any hope for having an honest and open exchange of ideas and strategies for the public good.

    Money is by far the “next worst” part. Too much campaign money coming from too few people. Since I can’t write the same size checks as the corporations and zillionaires, it’s not likely that I’ll have a lot of influence on anybody. You can argue that this is not reality but there certainly seems to be a lot of evidence that points towards the campaign cash (not measly dinners and drinks) as a major factor.

    I’m not sure that “trust” is the key as much as cynicism and hopelessness among most of us that we can ever really be heard or have any real influence on policies. Most citizens will tell you we want focus on fiscal responsibility, transportation, natural resources, public safety, etc. But, in election years, we get almost nothing but social “red meat for the base” issues like God, Guns, Gays, Mexicans, and Abortion – knucklehead junk legislation that does nothing to move us forward as a state.
    BTW: You guys also need to stop shifting the tax burdens down to the local levels and trying to paint that as some kind of fiscal conservatism at the state level – we ain’t all that stupid.

  20. Daddy Got A Gun says:

    Trust Is A Two Way Street
    ———————————–
    Government doesn’t trust us so why should we trust it, for example: Republicans in the Georgia Legislature don’t trust background checked licensees to carry self defense weapons in churches or schools.

    At the Federal Government level look at the TSA. How is SEXUALLY MOLESTING my 13 year old daughter making YOU safer?

    The Solution To Government Failure Is More Government
    —————————————————————————-
    Why should we trust an organization that treats failure as an opportunity to grow its power, for example: Ronald Reagan mandated that emergency rooms treat everyone regardless of whether we can pay or not. It was immediately recognized that the policy would result in higher costs and closures of emergency rooms. Instead of ending the policy, we ended up with more regulation and now Socialized Medicine.

    Every Solution Is Money Out Of My Family’s Budget, Not A Reduction of Government Power
    ——————————————————————————————————–
    Every solution that Government comes up with costs productive people money, for example: TSPLOST. Other than the mass transit boondoogles, everyone of those “critical” road projects could be built WITH EXISTING funding and smarter design. When I say smarter design, I mean deregulation. Upwards of 40% of road construction costs are UNrelated to the actual road construction or could be cheaper if a better design was allowed by regulation. If these road projects are so “critical”, why hasn’t GDOT and Legislature waived all regulation and rules that make road construction more expensive.

    Government Is Untrustworthy
    —————————————-
    When Government does something wrong, NOTHING happens to the people who did wrong, for example: Billions of dollars is being spent on the Pigford Racial Discrimination settlement and not one government employee lost their jobs. When Law Enforcement Officers do a no-knock raid and kill an innocent person, do they lose their job. No. Instead they claim “immunity”, which are Judical created concepts not found in our Constitution.

    Government Isn’t Us
    —————————
    Government employees have economic lives that are better than the people. We are slaves to their current and future pay and benefits. They don’t lose their jobs when their regulations eliminate American Jobs or their poor decisions lead to harm to Americans. They got a job for life and nice cushy pension. Look how Balfour is building his government pension and tell me how that is fair?

    Government Funds The Parasites With Money Taken By Force From The Productive
    ———————————————————————————————–
    Productive Citizens are tired of paying for the parasites and their endless demands for more. Does government make it easier and more productive to be a parasite or productive? Hint, why be productive when you can get SS Disability, Food Stamps, Free Health Care, Free Phones, Free Taxi Cabs, etc. At this point in time, the state is planning to expand the Medicaid. More free stuff for people who won’t work for it and paid for with money taken by force from my family.

    Government is Disingenuous
    —————————————
    TSPLOST is very disingenuous. Republicans voted for TSPLOST but did it in a way that their fingerprints are not on it. Then, all of these “no new tax” pledging Republicans claim they don’t have a position on the tax. When it passes, they’ll claim they didn’t’ raise taxes by 17%. Instead, they’ll spout off about the will of the people. CUTE! That is not being forthright and honest. Republicans enabled this huge tax increase that will lead to huge profits of their campaign contributors.

  21. Three Jack says:

    Best way to eliminate the trust deficit is for elected officials to actually do what they promise on the campaign pushcards.

    If you promise to lower taxes/decrease spending while improving transportation and education, then you better find a way to do it, especially when your party has an overwhelming majority. If elected officials would simply do their jobs as promised, the uproar over lobbyists would subside and trust would begin to be restored.

    Unfortunately the majority of elected officials are more concerned with the next election than doing what they were sent to do during their current term. This causes most to wallow in the muck of nothingness otherwise known as the ‘middle’. Attempting to piss off nobody by trying to maintain balance between extremes ends up pissing off a significant portion of the electorate. Simply accept that you have one term to get done what you promised, work toward that goal then let the chips fall where they may come election day.

    • CobbGOPer says:

      Their typical response to this accusation is “Well it’s DIFFERENT when you’re actually governing, you just can’t do everything you want, and that’s why I didn’t do [insert broken promise].”

      Translation: “Government is too complicated for your tiny brain to understand, which is why you keep bothering me with silly requests to fulfill my campaign promises which you know darn well I can’t. Shut up, or send me $100,000 for my campaign fund and maybe we can talk.”

  22. NoTeabagging says:

    End the two party system!
    I don’t vote for parties. I vote for strong individuals that lead independent of alleged ‘party ideals’.
    Stop spending millions on ads with obvious LIES! attack ads are turning off voters.
    Tell me what you can do for our future, not what some person/party did to allegedly screw it up.
    I can’t vote for people that spend months of intense character assassination against their opponents, Nor will vote for politicians that ‘kiss and make-up” and suddenly beg me to vote for the smackdown winner ‘for the good of the party’.
    Leave the (R) and (D) at home and govern independently.
    Govern for the most people.
    Vote for good legislation.
    Stop voting ‘with the team’ when the team is clearly wrong.
    Respect me, if you want respect. Obey the same laws I am expected to obey.
    Aspiring politicians are not above the law just by running for public office.

    • SallyForth says:

      Hey, N/T – great idea! “Leave the (R) and (D) at home and govern independently.” I’m sick of the two major parties controlling everything, fighting all the time, and generally forgetting about what’s best for the general public.

      Buzz, see if you can get a bill passed that says candidates shall no longer have letters beside their names on the election ballot — just line ’em all up and let the voters decide which person is best, without labels.

      • Blake says:

        Don’t forget to repeal all the nomination/balloting advantages the D’s & R’s hold over individuals and new parties.

  23. Jackster says:

    Here’s an idea – if you want me to trust that you are truly representing me, instead of disclosing some of your contributions and exemptions… post your time… your schedule.

    For instance: You must submit a GPS mapping of your car ride to get re-imbursed. (I assume most every legislator has a smart phone – go download runkeeper (http://runkeeper.com/), and turn it on while you drive. Done.

    Secondly, publish your schedule – who did you meet with and where did you go.

    I’m sure everyone will balk at it, but I tell you what – the level of entitlement, snobbery, and what have you will quickly go away if you are required to track your time and travels just like most of the people in your constituency do in order ot make their money.

    The first legislator to post that level of detail gets to call the shots on ethics reform.

  24. abella30 says:

    Buzz, thank you for the post. I don’t normally respond but I have been reading PP for years. My responses below are not addressed to you personally but they do represent my feelings towards politicians in general.

    I don’t trust politicians because they seem to care, in order, about their own power, the power of their party, the needs of their highest paying constituents/lobbyists, the needs of their voter base and then everyone else.

    If you want to regain my trust, then the following might help:

    • Don’t treat politics like it’s a football game between political parties. Our political system and our country are much more important and deserve better consideration than that.

    • Don’t “spin” situations all of the time. I would rather hear facts and the pros/cons of an issue rather than sound bites. If most of your comments to the public are sound bites or fluff, then I assume that you only care about preserving your political position or the power of your political party.

    • Related to spinning, I am sick of politicians lying to me. Don’t leave out inconvenient facts because they don’t fall in line with your position. Don’t provide quotes out of context so that they appear to mean something that they don’t. Don’t tell me that you are going to do things during the campaign when you don’t know whether you can do them or not.

    • Gerrymandering needs to end. It is the ultimate power play placing party concerns over the welfare of all of the citizens. It eliminates the competition of ideas by creating “safe” districts where a majority of the voters think similarly. Georgia politicians would go a long way in earning my trust if the district drawing process was placed in the hands of a truly independent committee, where the districts were based on geographic and economic concerns rather than political power

    • Make decisions about the hard issues rather than just the easy issues that support your own political power. Why are we having this TSPLOST vote? The legislature should have made the decision about this issue. Why did we pass an abortion bill in the last session when we have so many problems with transportation, the economy and education?

    • I am tired of “code words” from both parties. Whether it be “conservative christian” or “freeloader” or “small government conservative” or whatever. Don’t lump people into stereotyped groups that are then used to identify which concerns to exclude or include in your legislative process. Do you only represent people in certain groups or do you represent all of your constituents? If certain groups of people aren’t good enough to have your consideration when you create laws, then why should I trust that you have my best interests in mind?

  25. cheapseats says:

    +1000
    Buzz – do you hear the people? So many are saying this “• Gerrymandering needs to end. It is the ultimate power play placing party concerns over the welfare of all of the citizens. It eliminates the competition of ideas by creating “safe” districts where a majority of the voters think similarly. Georgia politicians would go a long way in earning my trust if the district drawing process was placed in the hands of a truly independent committee, where the districts were based on geographic and economic concerns rather than political power”

    It is the ULTIMATE arrogance to treat redistricting the voters of this state as some kind of prize that your party has earned by gaining the most players wearing your team’s jersey! We ain’t your bowling trophy. Stop treating us like some kind of serfs that you conquered in your war with some other Lord or Baron. And, please don’t start with that tired old “well, the Democrats did it too” stuff – of course they did and we kicked them to the curb.

    • CobbGOPer says:

      “”We have a peculiar set of approaches to how government should act in our economy and in our society,”

      Yes, it’s called ‘capitalism.’ Which doesn’t fit very well with best practices and ideas developed for the most part by SOCIALISTS. 0_O

  26. seekingtounderstand says:

    If we could send several county commissioners to jail for a long time and make them shamed by all forms of media it might go a long way of making people think there is some justice.
    GBI is gutted…….and the Federal help only works in the opposing party is in power as it is political also.
    We all know that too many county commissioners are doing what they did in Gwinnett County and getting away with it everyday. Catch a few and make examples out of them. Show them they can not keep grafting from the taxpayers of Georgia.

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