By Greg Smith
“. . .Absolute power corrupts the best natures.” – Alphonse De Lamartine
If Republicans across the country are wise, they will use the recent politically motivated closure of a portion the George Washington Bridge to their advantage. Though this wasteful, childish and foolish act was borne from a Republican governor’s administration, abuse of power – often mixed with idiocy — is a bipartisan pastime which grows concomitantly with the size of government.
How many Americans have never dealt with a police officer, revenue official, department of motor vehicle or child welfare worker, postal employee or anyone in the government monopoly who has blatantly abused his or her authority, safe in the knowledge there was almost no recourse to the arrogance? These encounters differ from instances of government bureaucracy in which the bureaucrat is simply following the rules, silly or frustrating as they may be, and enter the realm of petty tyranny. These are two constants in the mathematical equation that equals government.
The more government grows, the more ‘lane closures’ the average American faces. Beyond just annoyances these actions have a cost. An article at Time.com estimates if the artificial slowdown the week of September 9 doubled the average commuter’s drive then it cost drivers an added $7 million.
While a lot of money, on a per person cost maybe that isn’t a great deal. So consider the case of Michael Choate, who was arrested and charged with DUI by Utah Highway Patrol trooper Lisa Steed, who was fired from the force in November 2012 after courts found her testimony unreliable and a co-worker decided Steed’s arrests showed a pattern of dubious cause.
According to an Associated Press article from Feb. 22, 2013, Choate was wearing a Halloween costume when pulled over by Steed. Choate was charged with DUI despite three Breathalyzer tests showed a blood-alcohol level of .00. The arrest cost Choate almost $4,000 to get the charge dismissed.
While reviewing 20 of Steed’s DUI arrests, a supervising trooper reviewing the reports found what he referred to as a “pattern” – alluding to what looked like misconduct by Steed, who in 2007 had been the state’s trooper of the year. The supervisor then reviewed the report of an arrest Steed made two days prior. Her report said the suspect’s hand’s were shaking, but the supervisor actually had assisted in the arrest and knew while the suspect’s blood was drawn on the side of the road he sat “calmly.”
Steed charged with DUI numerous drivers who had no alcohol or drugs at all in their systems, but her reports gave the same stock entries concerning personal observations that could not be verified. Often those charged in these cases feel obligated to try to plea bargain, but even when charges are dropped drivers incur expenses from towing, legal fees, missed work, not to mention public embarrassment.
In 2009 alone Steed arrested 400 people for DUI. She told a Deseret News reporter “. . .you make a ton of stops, and you’re going to run into” people driving under the influence.
The ever increasing list of laws and regulations provides a parallel opportunity for abuse. And while police protection is not something that should be managed by the private sector, operating a bridge easily could. If a private company had been running the George Washington Bridge under a contract that rewarded traffic flow and punished delays, simple financial incentive would have nixed the foolish decision to close off a portion of the capacity of the bridge.
Private entities do not possess higher morals than government, but they do possess a more dependable motive, the profit requirement. Private enterprise faces competition, government does not. This is why the former is always striving to offer more for less, while the latter generally offers the same for much more.
For the ideologues ready to chalk the bridge lane closure to somehow endemic of Republicans: “Spitzer!” A list of people in the public realm who have involved themselves in such extremely unethical behavior – who would act in private as they would never dare in public – would be voluminous and show sleaze, graft and criminality to be a truly bipartisan arena.
For Republicans this is an opportunity to show a forthrightness generally lacking in politics and perhaps finally – finally – learn how to deal with a scandal. The American public recognize and value intellectual honesty in politics, rare as it is. Hoping the scandal is forgotten may help one Republican who probably doesn’t need it. Discussing the scandal and the ramifications of over governance will help many Republicans who do need it.
Society causes itself undue economic, social and political harm through the constant increase in the power of government over the people. Republicans who just want this scandal forgotten miss out on an opportunity to acknowledge the maxim “government that governs least governs best” applies to all government, not only when it is convenient. ©
Greg Smith is a freelance writer and political consultant who lives in Bantam, CT. His blog is found at http://www.betterfatthanfascist.com.