Old political habits die hard

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:16 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Whenever I quote Bertrand Russell or any of the other people who have said "people have the kind of government they deserve," some people take offense. But when you consider all the injustices and the unfair treatment that most of us are sometimes heir to and never complain about, you realize that, to a large degree, the statement is more true than false.

Virtually everyday you hear citizens complaining that politics is such a dirty business and that the government needs to be cleaned up. And honestly, I can’t think of anyone of any political party that would disagree with that sentiment, at least in principle.

So one would think that when Gov. Jay Nixon announced an end to license office patronage, all Missourians would stand up and applaud. After all, this system, which rewarded faithful members of whichever party was in power, had been in existence since the office was created. Now that the offices have gone on the auction block and are awarded to the highest bidder, some who were rewarded for their political loyalty under the old system are downright angry at the change.

So far, out of the 183 available, only offices located in Columbia, Liberty, Mexico, Moberly, St. Charles and the South Fremont office in Springfield have gained operators under the bidding system. The remaining offices will be staffed by the end of the year. The nominee named to head the Revenue Department has described the new process as one based on customer service and efficiency.

I’m sure the fact that the old practice had gone on for so long is one reason many nonvoters had for not participating in the political process. And I think this is especially true of young people who have heard their parents and other older people complain of such chicanery, but then accept it as the way things have always been done. As more and more young people become a part of the process, older people who are bound to the old ways are going to find a lot of this kind of behavior challenged.

I can predictan atmosphere of bruised feelings as the old way of doing politics becomes viewed as questionable, and many of its practices start disappearing down the drain. The power brokers are going to have to realize that a new day has dawned on the political scene, and just because things have always been done a certain way, does not mean it was either the right way or the only way. And that’s going to be difficult simply because old habits die hard, and giving up power has never been an easy experience for some.

I remember how hard change was for me when I was forced to deal with it on a daily basis working in the fast paced world of the communication industry. As more sophisticated technologies came into existence, our way of doing business changed on a weekly basis. Yesterday’s reality very often became obsolete overnight.

For a long time, I hated the changes that were constantly coming my way. But after a while, I began to appreciate the positive effects it had on my personality. In my life off the job, my attitude toward handling difficulties became more flexible. I was suddenly more open to new ideas, and I had begun to look forward to finding different ways of performing certain chores. And frankly, it made my life easier because I didn’t have to wrestle with every new, different or unusual challenge I met. It made it easier for me to be willing to learn things I had not known about previously.

Now as I watch individuals struggling with new political realities, I can empathize with their situation. Even people with whom I disagree profoundly, I find myself wanting to take them gently by the arm, lead them off to a quiet corner and explain to them what they have trouble understanding.

It’s terrible to be stuck in park when all the other cars are moving down the highway. Political realities changed while some people were caught in the midst of the same circle of colleagues and acquaintances that haven’t had a different thought in the last 30 years. They haven’t taken the opportunity to meet new people or discover different approaches to problem solving. In short, their minds haven’t expanded a quarter of an inch in the last three decades.

And so, they are adrift in a sea of confounding ideas that leave them breathless. If they took one afternoon, went to their local library and began to read newspapers that they normally disagree with, they might take home at least one new idea or one new way of looking at the idea, that might be the starting point of new discoveries.

And one thing we know for sure, it couldn’t hurt.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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