By BRAD WARTHEN
EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR
YOU’VE HEARD of the “UnParty” and the “Energy Party” — at least, you have if you’ve kept an eye on this space for any length of time.
But I have yet another name for my never-ending battle against the foolishness of the Democratic and Republican parties: the Grownup Party.
What is the Grownup Party? Let’s start with what it isn’t. It isn’t based on age. If it were, John McCain would win the party’s nomination this year, hands down. But John McCain recently proposed something that violated everything the Grownup Party stands for: a summerlong gasoline-tax vacation, which treats the voters of this country like children: You don’t like paying those mean ol’ nasty gas prices? Awww. Here’s a lollipop. Hillary Clinton likewise offended GP sensibilities by endorsing the McCain plan. Barack Obama, the youngest candidate out there, was the only one acting like a Grownup. (Although he did vote for a similar tax holiday as an Illinois state legislator. Presumably, he’s matured since then.)
Why do Grownups not like the gas tax vacation? Sigh. Because they understand that if it has any effect on the market at all, it will encourage more fuel consumption during the busy summer months, which is bad enough in itself, but even worse in that increased demand leads to higher prices. And that way the money will go to the oil companies (it was reported last week that investors were disappointed because Exxon Mobil made a profit of only $10.9 billion in the first quarter), to petrodictators and to terrorists, instead of into the U.S. Treasury — that is, our treasury.
Which brings us to something else about Grownups — they understand that in America, the government is us, rather than being some menacing thing out there, and that we’re very fortunate to live in this country at this time rather than in Russia under the czars — or under Vladimir Putin, for that matter. And we’re especially fortunate not to live in a place where there is no government, such as Somalia under the warlords.
When the government does something we don’t like — which is pretty often, political immaturity being rampant — we don’t stamp our feet and talk about taking our ball (or taxes, or whatever) and going home. Instead, we take responsibility for it, and try to bring it along. Yes, it’s a thankless task, like picking up after one’s children, or explaining to them why they can’t stay out late with their friends. But someone has to do it.
The task may seem hopeless as well — but only to the sort who gives up. Grownups know they don’t have that option, so they keep putting forth ideas that make sense, day after day, just like Daddy going to work.
Here’s an example: On Friday, I posted an item on my blog headlined, “Free Thomas Ravenel.” Yes, it’s childish to cry out for attention with such misleading stunts, but I did it in the service of a Grownup purpose (and besides, it helped my three-year-old blog reach its millionth page view later that day). That purpose was to raise the question, Why do we want to pay to feed, clothe and house Mr. Ravenel for the next 10 months?
That’s what we, the taxpayers, are going to do. Ravenel attorney Bart Daniel told the press last week that his client will report to federal prison May 29 to begin serving his sentence for conspiracy to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute.
Yes, he needs to be punished for flouting our laws (especially since he was our state treasurer at the time), but think about it: Mr. Ravenel is a multi-millionaire. Wouldn’t a multi-million-dollar fine — him paying us — make more sense than us paying for his incarceration? Yes, he was fined $221,000, and had to pay $28,000 in restitution. But we’re going to turn right around and spend a lot of that to keep him locked up over the next few months.
That’s on the federal level. Closer to home, South Carolina locks up more people per capita than almost any other state, and then refuses to appropriate enough money to run our prisons safely, much less to rehabilitate prisoners so that maybe we won’t have to lock them up again.
That’s why we advocated Attorney General Henry McMaster’s “middle court” idea in a Wednesday editorial. It would operate in a way similar to drug courts, combining individual attention with certain punishment for anyone who breaks the rules. But as long as offenders followed those rules, we wouldn’t waste money locking them up.
So far, the boys and girls over in the Legislature have not gone for this idea. That’s bad.
This is good: The city of Columbia is facing up to the fact that it costs money to lock people up for more offenses than Richland County does. The city has finally agreed to start paying a per diem fee for city prisoners housed in the county jail.
As we said in a Friday editorial, the good news here is that as a result, the city will encourage police officers to lock up fewer offenders who pose no physical threat to the citizenry.
This is progress. When it comes to nonviolent offenders, the “lock ’em up but don’t pay for guards” position is infantile — all emotion and immediate gratification, without a logical foundation. It’s encouraging to see our capital city moving away from it, however gradually. We await similar signs of progress on the state and federal levels.
But we’re not holding our breath. That would be childish.