The politics of hope vs. fear

By Chris Carlson

The people of the state of Iowa were getting ready to attend their precinct caucuses as this was being written. It was the first balloting by the people expressing their views on who should lead this nation for the next four years.

Regardless of who comes out ahead for either political party, the question the rest of us should ask is did the winners express optimism about our future as a nation and appeal to our hopes and aspirations? Or did they win by using cheap demagoguery and appeals to fear?

Unfortunately, too many elected officials today take the easy path of motivating by fear and tapping into anger. For this writer, watching two events this past week crystallized the difference in approaches.

The first was an interview in Davos, Switzerland, at the annual World Economic Forum with the recently selected Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau. Trudeau is the son of Pierre, perhaps Canada’s most famous Prime Minister.

By no means was he groomed to succeed his father. And his path to becoming prime minister saw him spend several years working as a teacher, and part of another year as a snowboard instructor at Whistler outside of Vancouver.

He did, however, spend time often traveling with his father as the then-prime minister crisscrossed Canada. The most important thing he said he learned was how to listen to what Canadians were saying they wanted from their government, and then channeling those desires into programs that deliver services effectively and efficiently.

He ended the interview by saying that Canadians had a choice to make: Would they be motivated by hope and optimism? Or by fear and pessimism? He offered the former and the Canadian voters gave young Justin’s Liberal party an overwhelming victory this past October.

This contrasted greatly with a legislative forum held this past weekend by eight of the nine-member all Republican Kootenai county delegation to the Idaho Legislature. It was a disappointing display of pure pandering to the Tea Party element in attendence, as well as supporters of permitless gun carry.

Most in the audience seemed to see the federal government as an out-and-out enemy. Yes, there are too many examples of agencies and individuals over the years lying about everything from atomic testing to deceptive practices by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Nothing, however, can justify any one taking the law into their own hands, seizing federal property and engaging in outright sedition. Yet when an audience member asked if one of them would introduce a resolution of support for the outlaws at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, not one legislator had the guts to look the guy in the eye and say, “Hell no. No one is above the law in this country and there are long-established processes for obtaining redress from the excesses of government.”

Another person expressed his frustration with what goes on in Washington, D.C. We all know inside the Beltway is a surreal world. But rather than propose a real solution of, say, term limits for both elected officials and public servants in the civil service, we would rather just rail against our government. Even though our government, for all its faults, does a pretty good job of taking care of those who legitimately cannot do so themselves.

This person, though, asked “why vote?” Now there’s a question every one of them should have knocked out of the ballpark. Only State Sen. Mary Souza, to her credit, pointed out the obvious. If you want change you have to participate and vote for people who reflect your views and hope (there’s that word) that they’ll do what they say when they get into office. (And yes, too many don’t).

Someone should have reversed the question: if you don’t vote why should I even listen to you?

Six of the eight at one time or another gave misleading information. Another person in the audience decried the many rules and regulations that come with new laws. While pointing out that Idaho is one of the few states in which the Legislature reviews and approves an agency’s regulations, the six pretended this review had nothing to do with approving the often astronomic increase in fees. The fact is when they approve the regs they approve the fees.

Another legislator assured a questioner that the federal government could no longer obtain any additional acreage without state approval. This completely ignores the government’s ability to condemn property or the president’s authority to, with the stroke of a pen, create new national monuments.

Several others sanctimoniously talked about how state acreage returns $14 per acre to the state, while federal property only generates 10 cents an acre. No source was cited nor was there any promise to increase the number of Department of Lands employees that would be needed if by some miracle the state did get ahold of federal property.

Another example of a misleading response was the promise several made to try to protect private and personal information. The questioner had had his identity stolen six times and made a valid point. But instead he received vague bromides.

Reference was made to possible legislation severely restricting the gathering of personal data. But the honest answer is it will never pass because two of the biggest collectors of personal data in order to profile individuals are our two great political parties.

As far as this observer is concerned, two legislators distinguished themselves by saying very little — State Sen. Bob Nonini and state Rep. Luke Malek. At times, state Sen. Mary Souza also did well. No one, however, delivered a message of hope and optimism. Sad.

A native of Kellogg, journalist Chris Carlson pens his column from his retirement home near Medimont in Northern Idaho. He is a former teacher and was press secretary to former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus.