By Rick Morris
When a member of the political establishment like Ohio’s retiring senior US Senator George Voinovich retires, a bipartisan lovefest is supposed to ensue. This column won’t be any part of that. Consider it a receipt as his unfortunate career fades to black and a dissection of how typical politicians manipulate for good press.
He retires after decades in various offices, although not what this corner would define as “public service.” He has garnered much attention over the course of his career, most recently for the last two decades as governor and then senator in the nation’s quintessential bellwether state. In 1996, he reportedly made it to Bob Dole’s short list for the GOP vice-presidential nomination, but efforts by patriots to publicize his true record in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times doomed his scheming to failure. During his senatorial stint, he postured relentlessly on a number of subjects ranging from John Bolton’s temper (truly the pot calling the kettle black!) to the Bush tax cuts of 2003.
As a beacon of the type of “moderation” that the political establishment prizes, he has gained sympathy from these figures on his way out the door for being out of place in the new Tea Party era. Brett Larkin, Cleveland Plain Dealer stenographer/groupie to the powerful (who slept through Cuyahoga County’s massive corruption), broke out a tribute to Voinovich’s grasp of the “practical.” In actuality, although those who spit out hack copy like Larkin will always be oblivious to this, the “virtues” he celebrates are the worst vices of American political life (and only the far-out lefties seem willing to tell the full truth about him). Countless examples of phoniness and doubletalk abounded over the years.
^ While celebrating himself as a legendary tightwad (who once allegedly plucked a penny out of a urinal – I will forego the temptation to wish somebody with a disgusting disease had just deposited in that structure), he spent other people’s money like it was going out of business. He inherited an Ohio budget in the neighborhood of $10 billion and inflated it to about $15 billion by the end of his second term. A 50% increase in eight years, some skinflint. He also never met a tax he wouldn’t impose on other people.
^ While hiding behind a public image of humility, his ego was actually something to behold. He surrounded himself with sycophants who played to his sense of self-importance. One example – personally witnessed – was being called “Governor” by them months ahead of his actual election in 1990.
^ His backward notions regarding civil service were also something to behold. In an act of cowardice, he refused to conduct a widescale purge of Celeste Administration political appointees in 1991 – defying custom – but his administration went after civil service employees who refused to conduct themselves as political hacks.
^ He relied extensively on the cowardice of the Ohio media in tracing the roots of corrupt individuals around him. His chief of staff Paul Mifsud was convicted of an ethics violation and his own brother Paul saw his companies liquidated by judicial orders due to screwing over Jefferson County on a jail construction contract. Whether George Voinovich was involved in the myriad of scandals around him – using the individuals who got caught as Mafia-style “cut-out men” – or was simply blind to the immorality around him is something the pliant lapdog media of the state has never truly investigated.
^ And his sainted moderation that causes grown men to weep in wonder … well, as those who actually take the time to care about public policy are aware, it consisted of shallow grandstanding to gain good headlines in the moment.
The last element really defined his career, as he ascended the greasy pole of Ohio political office, hopscotching from one office to the next by taking the most expedient positions possible and never letting principle get in the way of political advancement. Indeed, he seemed to take pride in being dismissive of those who cared about sound public policy.
In the end, it was the gaping disconnect between his image as a spending hawk and the sad reality that caused the most damage to his state and his nation. The nation’s entitlement culture, which has really taken root since the Great Society programs exploded in the 1960s, has finally brought the nation to the brink of utter financial ruin as we stare down the barrel of potentially one hundred trillion dollars in impossible spending obligations. As this blaze has raged out of control, his response has been to toast marshmallows over it.
Never in his career did he lead the charge for real spending restraint: not when he was in the Ohio legislature, not when he was a Cuyahoga County Commissioner, not when he was mayor of Cleveland (and turned over the city lock, stock and barrel to Council President George Forbes, having learned who was boss from the fiasco of the Dennis Kucinich tenure), not when he was governor and not when he was a senator. While those brave enough to be branded as radicals by the pro-spending crowd like Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint have stood up to the country’s poisonous spending culture, Voinovich rehearsed pretty speeches while doing exactly nothing about it.
And this is exactly what the political establishment and their mouthpieces miss every time that another one of these hollow men fades from the scene: by refusing to stand on principle, by refusing to hold office for the actual goal of improving the state of affairs, they selfishly hold us back from solving our many problems. By any sane measure, because he refused to address long-term systemic problems that loomed, he left every office in worse shape than he found it – with the exception of the Cleveland mayoral post, and it’s safe to say that ten years of Charles Manson in charge couldn’t have left it in worse shape than what Voinovich inherited from Kucinich in 1980.
Like his political soulmate George H.W. Bush, who once memorably had to grapple with the “vision thing” so that he could bamboozle voters into thinking that he had any dedication to sound policies, Voinovich advanced in his career accruing powerful titles and deriving all of his satisfaction from them. You’ll notice that neither he nor the idiots carving out the weepy tributes to him cite any actual accomplishments – except for the epic feat being a better mayor than Kucinich, and again, even that came from a decade of serving as George Forbes’ sock puppet.
By the pathetic standards that guided his political career, Voinovich was an immense success and doubtless, the sycophants that have always surrounded him will reinforce that image for the rest of his life. Their hot air provides the bubble that surrounds him – one that is impenetrable to human decency.
On the hopeful off-chance that he is conducting vanity Google searches to collect samples from every scribe he has bamboozled, at least this column will serve as a figurative turd in the celebratory punchbowl. He’s welcome on our talk show anytime to give his version of history and we’d be glad to pledge a respectful hearing significantly in advance of what he has earned. We are not holding our breath, though.
To those of us who follow politics and care about the embattled future of our great country, his career should be a cautionary tale about voters enabling the empty pursuit of status. On a daily basis, the media seeks to pound home how voters should fear the alleged radicalism of the Tea Party. As for me, I choose to fear the empty, plastic man who believes in nothing except his own advancement and chooses to kick every figurative policy can far down the road. Good riddance, George Voinovich.