Laslo Boyd: On the trail of Butch & Sundance

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There’s nothing quite like a trip to the incredible national parks in the Southwest region of this country to provide a bit of perspective on contemporary public affairs and politics.  So much that grabs the headlines on a daily basis is really small and insignificant compared to canyons and peaks that have been forming over millions of years.  Actually, when you stop to think about it, much of it is small and insignificant regardless of the comparison.

While I still have the benefit of the state of Zen that the trip produced, let me offer comments on a few “news” stories that appeared while I was away.  My first example is one that makes the point so easily that it’s the proverbial slam-dunk.  Former Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich announced that he would not, after careful consideration, run for the Republican nomination for president.  Wow, talk about breaking news.  The gaggle of 17 declared candidates must have emitted a huge collective sigh of relief. 

Ehrlich was never going to run.  He convinced a couple of reporters to write that he was thinking about it just to get his name in the paper.  It was purely an exercise in ego gratification, the attribute that stood out in Ehrlich’s term as governor as well. 

There was a brief dust-up after Barry Rascovar wrote a column suggesting that Larry Hogan was no longer Mr. Nice Guy and instead was Mr. Nasty.  For reasons that are almost unfathomable, Hogan rose to the bait.  In a rejoinder that smacked of Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook”, the Governor let it be known that he isn’t nasty.

Much of the coverage of Hogan’s term thus far has been characterized by a focus on his tone and apparent congeniality.  He has benefitted politically from that viewpoint.  Rascover’s column suggested that Hogan’s recent decisions reveal a much more confrontational and partisan approach.  That’s a very useful corrective to the often fawning descriptions of the governor early in his term.

The example that most clearly supports the “Mr. Nasty” conclusion is his Administration’s decision to cancel the Red Line in Baltimore without having any Plan B.  As I observed in a recent column, Hogan and Pete Rahn, the Secretary of Transportation, were merely pretending to study alternatives.  When Rahn showed up at a meeting this past Monday with Baltimore officials, he provided clear confirmation that he has given no serious consideration to Baltimore’s transportation needs much less coming up with an alternative to the Red Line.

The evidence keeps piling up that Hogan doesn’t care about the needs of Baltimore and that he sees significant political advantage to beating up on the City.  In both his decision to abandon the Red Line and the one to close the City jail, Hogan interjected gratuitous criticisms of Democratic office holders for the choices they have made on these two issues.

The City jail closure, which has received praise in some quarters, may well be correct.  However, it was announced in such a way as to give the appearance of seeking maximum political benefit rather than focusing on solving a problem.  Whether Hogan is Mr. Nasty or not, he is certainly Mr. Confrontational.

Finally, I want to make a few observations on, to maintain the Western theme, the Shoot-Out in Cleveland last week.  On the whole, despite a lot of breathless coverage and a huge television audience, the result was less consequential than the build-up.  With minor variations, all the candidates played their assigned roles.  Some of the single-digit contenders faded farther into the background, but they were already there.

Most significantly, there was an appalling lack of substance about the major issues facing the nation.  To be sure, some of the questions tried to raise real issues, but with a format that allowed no follow-up, it was easy for the candidates to revert to slices of stump speeches, evasion, and non-sequiturs.

What we did learn is that Donald Trump’s views, often described as outrageous and impolitic, are well within the Republican mainstream.  There was no significant divergence among any of the candidates on immigration, abortion, marriage equality or the need for a war with Iran.  Additionally, none of them felt the urge to discuss income inequality, voting rights, race relations or diplomacy as an alternative to military action.

The most striking characteristic of all the candidates not named Trump was their collective cowardice in the face of his blustering.  Some of them have timidly and cautiously offered criticism since the debate, but they all gave the appearance of being totally intimidated by him that night.  That certainly portends badly for the ability of any of them to stand up to other world leaders.

In the aftermath of the debate, much attention has focused on Megyn Kelly and Donald Trump’s attack on her.  During the debate itself, the three Fox panelists asked some thoughtful questions, pitched a few softballs and ventured into the bizarre at times.  Had any of the candidates received direct communications from God about their campaign?  Really?

And for the three professional journalists, their giggling and irrelevant asides during the course of the evening diminished what was on the whole a good effort.  They were way too familiar with the candidates.  Did they want to show that there were no hard feelings or to convince the audience how well connected they are? 

Having written these words, I’m afraid that the state of Zen is already wearing off.   Butch and Sundance would understand.  You can run, but you can’t hide.

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Laslo Boyd's professional experience includes serving as education advisor to the Governor of Maryland, Acting Secretary of Higher Education, senior administrator in several higher education institutions and university professor.  His work in political campaigns has involved strategic communications, public opinion polling, and development of position papers.  Dr. Boyd has consulted for a wide range of clients in higher education, government, and business.  He has provided political commentary and analysis in both print and electronic media.