News and Notes from David Carroll: Don’t Take the Credit
When I talk about my latest book to civic groups, I use an unerring laugh line. The book includes a list of thousands of famous people who visited my hometown of Chattanooga. While compiling the book, I requested and received a list of acts that have played in our biggest arena. I copied and pasted it onto my website, and people started showering me with praise. I was quite flattered. I tell my audience, “After all, there’s nothing I love more than being recognized for work I haven’t really done!”
There is a nugget of truth in this line of self-deprecation. We all appreciate a compliment, even if we used an online recipe or a professional decorator.
Such honesty is rare in politics. The usual rules of ethics do not apply.
I grew up in Alabama. George Wallace ruled the state for nearly three decades, and he didn’t gain that power by being Mr. Nice Guy. After a first defeat in 1958, he learned what voters wanted to hear and he never lost another election.
A big part of that formula was to appeal to people’s worst instincts and not back down. It has proven to be a successful route to political success, regionally and nationally.
I remember one exception. In the 1970s, a longtime Alabama sheriff named Bob Collins was running for re-election. During a political rally, his challenger stood on the podium, promising to rid the county of drugs and alcohol. He ranted and raved, condemning what he called “lax enforcement of the law”. When it came time for Sheriff Collins to respond, he walked over to the microphone. In a low, gravelly voice, he said, “People, you all know me now, and I’m asking for your vote on Election Day.” End of speech. He easily won another term. He didn’t need to embellish, lie or take credit for anything. His work spoke for itself.
Many of today’s elected officials have no shame. It always makes me cringe to see a county commissioner who has never supported a tax hike smile for the camera at the grand opening of a new school. Voters are thrilled that their children no longer have to dodge leaks and fight mice. They are seemingly oblivious to the fact that the new building wouldn’t exist if Commissioner No-Tax had what he wanted. Of course, he is constantly reelected.
We see this playing out at the state and national levels now. Some elected officials are unabashedly taking credit for “grants” for improvements to provide broadband service to rural communities and repair crumbling bridges. They show up for photo ops and hold press conferences to make their voices heard.
They forget to mention that they opposed the Federal Funding Act that was passed last year to create jobs and get those wheels moving.
When pressed on the matter, they will retort that infrastructure legislation “adds trillions to our national debt”, and they cannot support “forcing our children and grandchildren to pay for an unnecessary socialist wish list. “. They talk about “unnecessary spending on pet projects”.
On the other side of the mouth, they admit that they support “funding for broadband and infrastructure projects, especially roads and bridges that will benefit our citizens”. So to sum up: they support it, although they are against it.
While it’s true that many congressional bills are too big, these politicians rarely come up with their own solutions. They also ignore the fact that presidents of both parties have promised, but failed to deliver, infrastructure improvements over the past few decades.
I am happy that future generations will reap the benefits of improved water systems, sewer lines, highways, bridges, etc. I am grateful to the current elected leaders who finally found a way to make this happen.
In the 1950s, the two sides worked together to pass President Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway construction bill. There were heated debates over funding, but eventually they found common ground. These forward-thinking public servants ended the era of two-lane roads. Thanks to them, everything from transporting goods to commuting to summer vacation is easier for us today.
I’m not sure our opponents today could have made that happen. If they insist on taking credit for good deeds done by others, let’s hold them accountable. Have them use dial-up internet and drive on two-lane roads.
(David Carroll is a Chattanooga newscaster, and his new book “Hello Chattanooga: Famous People Who Have Visited the Tennessee Valley” is available on his website, ChattanoogaRadioTV.com. You can contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405, or at [email protected])