Limited Taxation
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Barbara's Column
January 2001 #4

President Bush may be expecting too much
by Barbara Anderson

Dear President Bush:

I loved your inaugural address.

"Today", you said, "we affirm a new commitment to live out our nation's promise through civility, courage, compassion and character."

Mr. President, I am going to try my best to do what you ask.

Character is the easiest. At my age, one either has it or one doesn't; it's not the sort of thing one makes a resolution about, then initiates a late-in-life ten-point plan.

Compassion is easy too. It only applies for people who deserve it, right?

People always tell me how courageous I am. This made no sense until I read that the one thing most people fear is public speaking, which I do all the time. I don't have to pretend my audience is naked, either. But is it really courageous to do things that you've never been afraid of at all? The things I am afraid of, I avoid like the plague.

Gee Mr. President, I'm not doing so well here with "our nation's promise," even before I admit to flunking civility on a regular basis.

But I am trying. After you finished your speech I went out to get gas at the Mobil station in Vinnin Square. Most of the self-serve spaces were in use, except the two covered by the SUV whose driver, having filled his tank, was washing his windows -- all of them, slowly, with artistic flourish. I couldn't fit in front of him or behind him, so waited awhile, then called politely from my car to ask him to move forward so he was taking up only one space. He ignored me. I prepared to drive in front of him, hoping that the car behind me would pull up behind, trapping him there in his space for as long as it took for him to get really really frustrated.

Then I remembered what you said: character, compassion, courage, civility. I forced myself to feel compassion for this character who must go through life with people assuming he's an inconsiderate jerk. I rejected a courageous move to risk my life for Mother Earth by ramming his environmental disaster with my little Honda. Instead, I simply shrugged, civilly, in the direction of the next car in line.

The woman in that car leaned out her window and stated loudly that the SUV driver was "just ignorant."' I think she probably would have played my "trap him in the middle" game if I'd made my move. Instead, we both waited our turn and let him drive off at his leisure.

To tell you the truth, I didn't feel too good about my civility. My character demands justice, if not revenge, and I can't help feeling that compassion toward inconsiderate jerks is no virtue. The woman who called him "ignorant" had the courage of her convictions more than I did. I kind of wish I'd at least stepped out of the car and kicked his spare tire.

Still, I kept working on being civil all week, despite aggravation from our state government.

Certainly I was able to praise your friend Governor Cellucci for setting an example on how to structure a state budget, when he released his version on Wednesday. For the first time in years, there are no budget-irrelevant attached sections, intended to bypass normal debate on controversial issues.

But the Governor's budget abolished the office of the Inspector General, the independent agency responsible for monitoring state construction projects to avoid waste and corruption. When asked my opinion of this alleged cost-saving move, I civilly pointed out that the office costs taxpayers roughly $2.5 million a year, but it just saved us taxpayers $150 million by halting a taxpayer-subsidized ski resort so it seems worthwhile to me.

This was a big improvement over my usual "abolish what!" and "Ski resort? This is an essential state service? Has everyone gone nuts?"

I'm afraid I did question the courage and character of the Massachusetts House when it voted to abolish representative democracy by making Tom Finneran "Speaker for Life." Since your own term is limited to eight years I'm sure you agree with George Washington that having one person in a permanent powerful position is a bad idea. But you'd probably rather I were more compassionate toward the legislator who, after inexplicably declaring that she was not a potted plant, suggested that Wall Street would be upset if Finneran had to step down in three years.

Don't give up on me, Mr. President. Continue to set an example of character, compassion, courage and civility, and I will continue to aspire.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem Evening News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.

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