Skepticism is healthy. Cynicism is not. They aren’t the same. Skepticism is questioning. Cynicism means we have stopped questioning, started blaming, and created a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal’s July 2 banner headline marked the new fiscal year: “Alas, taxes stayed same: Did you really think politicians would decrease your burden?” The story below asks almost the same question, adding, “So Nevadans will continue to pay an extra $70 in sales taxes on any new $20,000 pickup and $200 for the privilege of doing business in the Silver State.” If the newspaper’s new leaders think this helps restore the journalistic trust their predecessors violated, they’re wrong.
What if the story said, “So Nevadans will continue to have programs that enable them to go to school and drive their cars on paved streets”? Objective? No, but neither was the other approach, which encourages cynicism without evidence. If politicians always want to raise taxes, why is Nevada among the lowest-taxed states? We’ve made a grand sport of jumping to the conclusion that our politicians live to rob us blind.
One of those supposedly tax-happy Democrats, former and would-be future congresswoman Dina Titus, took a retirement buyout from UNLV after several months of criticism from the right that she was paid too much to teach one class and do assorted work for the school.
Is Titus well-paid or overpaid? Is it unreasonable that a professor with 34 years standing, loads of publications and awards and a national reputation makes just over six figures? Maybe, but here’s the news: That’s the going rate for such people.
For two decades, Titus gave up her salary every fourth semester to serve in the Legislature, for which she didn’t even make chicken feed, and served on interim committees that took up time while maintaining her UNLV schedule. She also spent the bulk of those sessions away from her home and family.
That isn’t to defend or support her. Other legislators did and do the same. They deserve credit for being willing to serve under those circumstances, whatever the merits of their service. But we’re cynical, so we think they go to Carson City to make themselves richer and us poorer, while being paid next to nothing and subjected to our abuse.
On a semi-related note, the conservative Nevada Policy Research Institute accused Assembly Speaker John Oceguera of double-dipping at the Legislature and as a North Las Vegas assistant fire chief. Oceguera and the city countered that he was on call, worked weekends and followed the rules. Las Vegas Sun columnist Patrick Coolican called Oceguera’s action “a bone-headed unforced error” because it would “be used to great effect by the anti-government crowd.”
Coolican is right. Whatever Oceguera—who recently announced that he’ll run for Congress next year—actually did matters far less than the general belief among Nevadans that public employees are evil. It’s not a surprising phenomenon; the state always has suffered from anti-government sentiment. But the sentiment is largely rooted in hypocrisy—the federal government did a lot to build this place, like it or not.
The Founding Fathers believed in civic virtue—that citizens with the time, education and resources should serve. Agree or disagree with our elected officials, we might benefit from being less cynical about their motivations, more skeptical about their actions and more aware of our own lack of virtue in how we look at them.