Ideas need some passion, or they fail

If it smelled like a tax hike, it didn’t stand a chance. Unless, that is, it was a blank check for firefighter and police pensions, perhaps another illustration of how 9-11 changed America’s political landscape.

And backing from business leaders and elected officials seemed like a handicap, rather than a boost. Unless the boost came from President Bush, whose intervention tipped virtually every close race for the Senate into the Republican column.

If there is any coherent lesson to be gleaned from this week’s election results, it may be that politics are not so much local as personal, that the messenger is at least as important as the message.

Gov. Gary Locke and the leadership at Boeing were unable to drum up support for either a transportation package or an overhaul of the state’s unemployment-compensation tax, both of which the aircraft company said were critical to its future in Washington State.

Yet nationally, Bush was able to sell both a dubious war and a tax-cut plan that gives most of its largess to the wealthy. And Tim Eyman sold an initiative that stripped local voters of their ability to tax themselves.

Although Initiative 790 gives police officers and firefighters the power to boost their own pensions at huge expense to state and local governments, they said “trust us, we won’t do that.” The voters said OK. Yet those same voters refused to trust solutions that “politicians” and “bureaucrats” offered for complicated tax and transportation issues.

Tuesday’s “winners” – the president nationally, the initiative guru locally – share at least one important trait, and that is genuine passion. Economists and generals agree that some of Bush’s ideas are nonsense, but there’s never any doubt that he believes them. The same is true of Eyman.

But who was genuinely, fervently, passionately in favor of Referendum 51? Gov. Locke said the right things, but did anyone get the feeling he cared as much as the measure’s opponents? And the Democratic majority in the legislature wasn’t much help – how could it claim anything but indifference, when House Speaker Frank Chopp refused to settle the gas-tax-for-transportation issue in Olympia, and insisted from the outset that the package be presented to the voters?

Locally, we refuse to accept the view that citizens are thoughtfully moving toward a conservative age, abandoning transportation needs, public schools and other components of our social weal. Nationally, we refuse to believe voters want a wholesale rollback of hard-won protections for the environment and civil rights. But those opposed to such shifts should ask themselves why they can’t find support at the polls.

We’ve heard a lot of talk during recent campaigns about the responsibility of elected officials to “educate” the voters. Maybe what they really want is to be inspired.

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