Risky clamor for scaled-back government

We don’t know if those hearings they’ve talked about holding into the royally bungled snow removal we’ve just experienced in New York will reveal evidence of the problem being tied to manpower shortage issues, as some seem to suggest. But whether or not that is established as a cause of the days of boiling-point frustration visited upon so many in the city, we can chalk up the aftermath of this blizzard of 2010 as a poignant reminder of how things could go hellishly awry when government services prove to be not as dependable as we assume them to be.

And what irony in the timing of this turn of events, where so visible a letdown in government’s delivery of a vital service would happen while we’re in the midst of a manic impulse on the part of political hucksters to con folks into believing that willy-nilly curtailment of the functions of government is harmless practice and altogether in the people’s best interests. Ditto, the hogwash about cutting taxes –whether for businesses or well-off individuals – being a practicable fit with alleged deficit-reduction goals. It is nothing but raw bait-and-switch mumbo jumbo designed to hoodwink the gullible, who discover only after they’ve been duped, what the consequences are of the ill-advised policy moves advocated by these “pretend” mavericks for systemic change.

Sometimes, it takes perhaps some personal interaction with the DMV, the court system, the INS or whomever to come face to face with how budget cuts may have negatively impacted service delivery. With across-the-board misery dealt by an event like a brutal snowstorm, the effects of the powers that be compromising operations become, for better or worse, more immediately obvious to the general population. Which is not to imply this was the scenario we just underwent here…although there are those, like New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez, who haven’t been shy about assigning blame for the snow fiasco, Gonzalez calling out Deputy Mayor for Operations Stephen Goldsmith as chief culprit.

In this time of Tea Party moxie, talk of cutting government down to size is trendy. And as long as it continues to cast the individual barking this message as a no-nonsense watchdog type, there will be pawns within the electorate falling for the line. Maybe it doesn’t register or doesn’t even make a difference to the target audience, that invariably, it seems, those making the “reduce government” pitch have a pro-business take on discharging the state’s civic responsibilities. And with so many of the super-rich recently finding the political arena somehow attractive for a plunge, putting a business face to government looks like a concept we’ll be bombarded with for a while yet.

One guy who bears watching in this regard, who was one of a slew of those deep pocketed folk looking to get into government in last November’s midterm elections, is Rick Scott, the Republican/Tea Party candidate who was elected governor of Florida in a close race, after spending reportedly about $75 million of his own money. A poll released at the end of December described Scott as having the worst favorability rating among governors-elect in the country. One suspects that those unflattering poll numbers may be a reflection of some serious second-guessing about the election result and the fact that voters knew (or certainly should have known) how tainted a candidate Scott was. Scott made his money in the health care field, ultimately serving as chairman and CEO of the largest health care provider in the country, Columbia/HCA. In 1997, however, he was forced to resign after government investigators uncovered massive fraud in the company’s operations, resulting in a payback to the government of more than $600 million and, in all, reportedly more than $2 billion in settlement of civil suits, making this by far the largest fraud settlement in U.S. history. Scott dabbled in other ventures after his involuntary disengagement from Columbia/HCA. By the time the Obama health care reform legislation became topic A, he aggressively threw himself into the fray.

You would think that given his past, having led a company guilty of such grand-scale larcenous carrying-on, Scott would step gingerly around the issue of governmental participation in the effort to rein in health care costs, as proposed in the Obama legislation. Not so, this free-market apologist, who in 2009 bankrolled and formed Conservatives for Patients’ Rights to oppose the administration’s bill.

The fact that even given his mega-bucks campaign, Scott barely eked out a win in the contest surely evidences that a hefty portion of the Florida electorate considered him a man with some baggage – that plus those unspectacular favorability numbers well after the election.

He, too, has spouted the line about shrinking government, of course. True to form, he has proposed cutting corporate and property taxes to the tune of $2.1 billion in his first year, even as the state, like many others, faces a deficit. And, exuding confidence, Scott has promised to create 700,000 jobs in seven years. How ambitious is that, in light of a single gubernatorial term being four years!

Scott’s optimism notwithstanding, he has, in the first instance, to mollify enough of Florida’s population apparently wary of the choice made in November. Right now he looks to be a prime example of this new order of traveling salesmen, hell-bent on convincing anyone willing to listen that it’s in their hands that government works best.

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