Several years ago, I used to find myself having a rather consistent conversation with a particular friend.
This friend, let's call him Ed, for argument's sake, would maintain that sheer involvement with the political process would lead to the corruption of the individual. I, meanwhile, maintained that individuals truly interested in making a positive difference in people's lives could be elected to high office without having their ideals compromised.
For quite a long time, as you can imagine, Ed and I found ourselves at loggerheads over this very different world view.
Recent proposals put forth on both the state and county level, however, are making me rethink those old conversations not so drastically that I'm abandoning my entire contention, but enough so that I think I can finally see a middle ground between both sides of that nearly decade-old argument.
The proposals that I've been mulling are Governor George Pataki's recently circulated 'road rage bill' and the county's plan to create a 'hub' in central Nassau.
You see, to my mind, what both these proposals share is the following premise: that each of these measures is needed due to the circumstances we now find ourselves in. What both ignore is the fact that in almost every sense it was past actions and in actions by various levels of government which lead to the circumstances in the first place.
Take 'road rage' for instance. This past weekend, as I do every four to five weeks, I found myself in a panel discussion on the News 12 Long Island program, Reporter's Roundtable. During the course of the program, I expressed much the same contention that I'm putting forth here: that in proposing such a law the governor is offering a shallow solution to a complex problem, and essentially placing the blame for the mess on ordinary people like you and me and not acknowledging the system's role in fostering this mess.
Carole Cohen, a radio reporter with WBAB, harshly disagreed with that position, stating that she had spoken to state troopers about this, that they believed such a law has been needed for at least a decade, and that it's a mighty fine thing that a driver bumping another vehicle with his car will now face a felony charge.
What's wrong with this picture is that state lawmakers are putting in place penalties, but still failing to stem the stress and tension that leads to this condition we've all begun to call road rage.
Now, I grew up on Long Island, learned to drive on local roads, and commute every morning. I can see, just from my own experience, that our local roadways are overtaxed, that development of malls and super stores and the like and the absence of enough major north-south routes on the Island have resulted in a situation analogous to shaking a carbonated can of soda... we're now at the point where the mixture is about to explode from the can. The road rage bill wants to punish us for the resulting spill, but doesn't do anything to stop the shaking in the first place.
For instance, how many drivers each rush hour, men and women both, have to drop their children off at a day care center in one community before then driving to their own places of employment somewhere else. Here's a commonplace situation that creates stress on a regular basis for a large number of our drivers.
If the state were to step forward and make it easier for corporations and particularly, for office buildings to establish day care centers, so that parents can have their children near at hand, in the general vicinity of where they work, wouldn't that tamp down a measurable amount of this building rage?
The proposal to create a Nassau Hub, a proposal that stems in large part from local lawmakers trying to find a way to mitigate local traffic issues, again grows out of the same philosophy we see exhibited by the state.
With the death of the defense industry on Long Island, local municipalities have sought for the past decade to fill the job and tax revenue void, by allowing for large scale development of retail and office structures, destinations that cause traffic to swell incredibly in areas where the roadways were never built or intended to handle so much traffic.
Now, lawmakers contend that we 'need' this hub to try to stem the rising tide of this traffic thanks to a series of developments that were fostered and allowed to fester by local municipalities, we now will 'need' a remediation measure that, guess what? Will cost tens of millions of dollars, dollars which will have to be raised through some kind of tax levy, either passive or aggressive, will forever change the face of our local communities under the plan an elevated track will almost certainly extend into Carle Place and West Hempstead (conjuring visions of living under the 'L' in Queens) and which may or may not actually live up to its sponsors' expectations.
(Despite the fact, for instance, that the big box stores have proven to be the death-knell for many main streets, the Long Island Regional Planning Board report actually prophesizes that the inclusion of a monorail in the 'hub' scheme will actually benefit local stores!)
If Nassau is to survive, if New York State is to survive, and if ever-increasing numbers of our residents aren't going to be inspired to flee, we need to get off this merry-go-round of governing for the short term. All of us, and in some respects I'm as guilty of this as anybody, want immediate answers. It's part and parcel of the human experience, whether we are talking, in childhood, of turning to our parents for help, of going to a physician for what ails us, or turning to a legislature for assistance. We want solutions in the near-term. And that, in an nutshell, is what politics is premised upon.
What we need is for our political leaders to think more of their legacy to their community and less of getting re-elected. More than anything, what we need is for our public servants to look at a problem and begin to cope with all the underlying factors contributing to it, rather than trying to pass a band aid in the guise of a law and then telling us, at election time, that they've done great things to make us all feel better.