One of this summer's favorite pastimes is called "political bashing." It's a simple game where you wait for a politician to make virtually any comment and then you play Monday-morning quarterback and bash the politician's position. It's a equal-opportunity game played by both Democrats and Republicans.
Far be it from me to fall on the side of a campaigning politician, but let me offer the following situation and see how the bashers would respond.
Let's say you're Jay Nixon or Sarah Steelman or Kenny Hulshof and you've decided to run for governor of the great state of Missouri. You've raised a bundle of cash, hit the road for a thousand chicken-dinner speaking engagements and visited with more members of the media than you care to mention.
So now the primaries are approaching, and the questions are getting tougher every day.
Let's say there are three pressing issues facing Missouri in the short term. The problems are a vastly inadequate amount of funds to fix Missouri's transportation system, an ever-expanding Medicaid system that is already taking one-third of the state's budget and the ongoing need for quality education funding in our state. And just to add a little spice to the discussion, let's just say that while campaigning it's political poison to mention any tax increase to pay for these needs.
So there you have the dilemma facing these three honorable Missourians vying for your vote in the months ahead.
What would you do? It's just a game, so don't be shy. How would you tell your fellow Missourians you will address this funding trifecta shortfall?
Not so simple, is it?
Transportation officials say next year we'll fall about a cool billion dollars short of our transportation needs. Medicaid advocates are daily pounding away to restore past cuts and expand the program even more. And when you talk education needs, you're talking about the Holy Grail of state government.
Would you raise taxes? Would you turn to private funding for assistance? Or would you yearn for the days in the private sector where the money is greater and the headaches are less?
The next time you want to join in the political bashing, just remember that it's not a game and the stakes are real. Lives could be lost on deteriorating roadways or from a health delivery system that is broken at best. And even greater damage can come from an inadequate education system that cheats future generations.
No, politics is not a game, nor a sound bite, nor an ego trip. The players are limited to those few who can stand the heat and play this game for real. And sometimes, perhaps the political bashers should remain silently on the sidelines and appreciate what is truly at stake.
Michael Jensen is a Southeast Missourian columnist and publisher of the Standard Democrat in Sikeston, Mo.