THE CAPITOL CONNECTION: Farewell, or maybe not

I’VE BEEN WRITING COLUMNS for many years. One such column was meant to be statewide in New York and the other a local Berkshires column. We are talking so many years that I really don’t remember when it all started. I am now, incredibly, 81 years old. I have not added up exactly how many columns I have written. Maybe there were hundreds, maybe thousands. In any case, we are talking a lot of words.

It started when my friend Alan Copland was the editor of the Berkshire Courier but over the years, a whole host of very good editors were looking over my shoulder, including the very talented Stephen Fay who used to edit my columns. So now I have decided only to write when the spirit moves me. Frankly, I don’t know when that will be. Many columnists and some other news folks put the number “thirty” at the end of a particular columns to let the editor know that the piece is finished. So, this might just be my “thirty” column, but it probably will not be. When you write every week you develop a habit. You really can’t stop scratching the itch.

Sitting with the best part of my life, the lovely Roselle, trying to figure out how to decrease the pressure, we thought one way out from under the grueling demands of a weekly column would be to only write occasionally. I really don’t know what that means. It might mean that I will keep on keeping on and doing what I have always done or it just might mean that I may skip a week here and there or longer. In any case, there is a big difference between doing something because you have to do it or doing it because you feel like doing it. Read more…

THE CAPITOL CONNECTION: Gender expectations linger

I WAS A COLLEGE PROFESSOR for a lot of years and once you’ve been a teacher, there are some things that you never forget. One of those things was the onerous task of having to grade the work of others. Since we have all had our work evaluated by a higher authority, we know what’s involved and we certainly know the sting of having our work judged as less than what we, ourselves, think it’s worth. Simply, we don’t want to mess up. There are times, however, when we must assess the work of others. Right now, for example, my job is to review the work of some elected officials in New York State government.

Take the governor, Kathy Hochul. She is actually doing a fairly good job and we are not hearing a lot of negatives about her. Since politics has been more traditionally known as a male game, it is instructive that New York’s first woman governor is doing so well. It is possible that people are giving her a break because she’s a woman. On the other hand, it’s likely that she has always had many of the qualities that we tend to associate with strong male personalities. My sense is that Hochul has caught the people’s imagination not only because she is breaking new ground but also because she is a first-rate politician who has eschewed the usual political competitiveness and has garnered the people’s respect. I know that from what I see of her, she has proven herself a master of the game. Whatever it is that she has in her administrative personality, she has certainly made it work and is gaining great credit for what she is doing. I keep my ear close to the ground and do not hear any real grumbling about her administrative abilities.

Now let’s face it, there are some things that both men and women in politics have to deal with that might defy our expectations. If a woman is a major political executive, it’s likely that she will have a lot of men working for her. At each stage of the supervisory process, there is an interactional difference between a man telling a woman subordinate what to do and the other way around. I suspect that it should not be that way, but it is. We are raised by mothers and fathers who quite often set the stage for how we interact with others. I once had an excellent women college president who called me over to a table in our faculty tower where we were both having lunch and gave me a set of very specific orders. I felt like the mouse who was confronted by the cat but I had no choice but to tell her no. It must have been an important interaction because it has stayed in my mind for many, many years. Read more…

THE CAPITOL CONNECTION: Here are some existential safety tips

SNOW, OF COURSE, IS A TRAP. We all know that as we enter a winter with little or no signs of the frozen white stuff. Sometimes we will wait for most of the season, thinking that we will escape unharmed by the snow, but inevitably we are fooled. It’s as if a heavenly hand is rolling the dice in its own favor. That hand makes decisions for us about whether we will survive or not. I am not kidding about that. Think about all the people you know who assumed that when they left the comfort of their houses, they would come home unscathed. They didn’t. They fell, they broke a leg, they reached out with their hand and broke it. They crossed against a red light and paid the consequences. Life, as they say, is uncertain.

There are a lot of things that can happen to you because of snow. It can melt and refreeze, turning to ice, and you can trip and fall on your face. Snow and ice, of course, are first (or frost) cousins. They can really trip you up. Just when you think that you have made it through a winter, it turns out that you really haven’t. It’s no secret that ice can put your life in danger. One wrong step and you will know that maybe you shouldn’t have taken that step.

Sometimes, of course, you can’t think out each and every move you make. Much as we’d like to, we just can’t. Remember when your mother cautioned you to look both ways before crossing the street? What gave you the arrogance to believe that you knew better than mothers everywhere with their heartfelt warnings? Think about all the stupid things you’ve done that cause you to say to yourself, “I’ll never do That again!” Read more…

THE CAPITOL CONNECTION: Don’t let bad actors have their way

BECAUSE I AM ON THE RADIO a lot and I write columns like the one you are reading now, it seems that people have more respect for my influence than they ought to. I do realize that a lot of people are not afraid to lend me their super powers but the truth is, I really don’t have the ability to reorder the world or to do all the things that you and I might want to do so that, for instance, no one goes hungry or every person is given the respect to which they are entitled. If phone rings every now and then and someone asks you to help further their newest theory on how to make the state, the country or the world a better place, it’s likely that plan will not work.

You and I both know that many human beings are not given the respect that they deserve. A lot of us learned that early when someone, perhaps a teacher, perhaps another student, tried to convince us that we were less capable and generally inferior to them. It might have been a sibling or some other relative who thought it was their heaven-delivered purpose to bring us down. I don’t believe that I have ever met anyone who can’t look back on their life and find one of those awful people who got their jollies by suggesting that they were better than you. I suppose some psychologist could explain why some people seem to have the need to regard others as failures when compared with themselves. Unfortunately, just as dogs and children often contest with each other, adults do the same thing. Who among us hasn’t run into someone who seems to want to bring us down? When that happens, what do you do? Do you punch them in the nose, twist their arm, argue with them and hit them back with the same shots they are aiming at you? I have found that doing to them what they are doing to you is hardly the road to success. It almost never works. So what else can you do?

Well, one option is to do what your mother probably told you so many years ago: “Ignore them.” Unfortunately, in my experience, not paying attention to them is not always a good solution. I mean, when you do that, the offensive people are basically being led to believe in some way that they are winning the duel. The other problem with the “ignore them” model is that it can backfire and only encourage them to do more. Read more…

THE CAPITOL CONNECTION: Does being elected make you special?

THE UNITED STATES HOUSE of Representatives is an official disgrace. This is really nothing new. We the people, the voters, expect that the people we elect to serve in Congress will do so with integrity, decency and accountability. All too often, we learn that these very people often turn their backs on their constituents. Our expectations that they will not let us down have not been met.

I remember my time working in and around Congress and seeing examples of terrible alcoholism and sexual excesses. Since all of it was reflective of what was going on in the larger society, I was not terribly upset. In truth, I was amused by a lot of what I saw. So people drink and have sex. Nothing new there. Many of us don’t see anything particularly wrong with this but now the curtain has been ripped away one more time and things are different.

What we are learning now is not personal. We might not really care whether or not the denizens of the Congress are having sex. But when we find out that the members of Congress are doing things that we ourselves would not do and that they are not keeping their oaths to really re-present us, it affects us in different ways. Some of us laugh, some of us are disgusted, and some of us are jealous that our representatives are having too much fun. Those of us who get angry when we hear about Congressional misbehavior confuse me as to their motives.

I have been interviewing members of Congress for many years. Most are very good people. I see no real differences between them and most of the rest of us. When I worked amongst Congress persons and their staffs, I was fascinated by the differences between those who had actually been elected and those who worked for them. Although it is hard to generalize about what I saw, I will tell you that the elected officials acted differently than those who staffed their offices. Putting it a little differently, when someone is elected it can give them a sense of irresponsibility because they often believe that being elected by others makes them special.

When I was a selectman in Alford, Massachusetts, I did not believe that my election made me special but, of course, that was a tiny little town. The work was often demanding, the pay was negligible, and I couldn’t wait to quit my job. When we relocated to a larger town, I was amazed to see that there were people who used their public office to personally help themselves. I saw one elected official ask to borrow money from one of our richer citizens. The Congress and state legislatures are filled with people who believe that to the winners go the spoils. It really makes you scratch your head and wonder why so many of these folks would endanger their reputations.

The temptations, no matter how small, that are put before our public officials can corrupt them. When one runs for public office and wins, a sense of entitlement will often accompany that win. I have heard of many institutions that offer ethics training, so sure are they of how often people “mess up” and try to trade in on their public offices. I have no doubt that many of you reading this can name such people. No matter how many of us have seen such corruption, and that’s what it is, it is unlikely that we would seriously consider blowing the proverbial whistle. Just ask yourself whether you would, should you witness such cheating.