Quips a poor substitute for thoughtful positions

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 29, 2009

People may not think they have friends in the mass media. But they do, at least in Mississippi.

So far, based on my reading and viewing, you, the news consumer, have been spared the juvenile tit-for-tat exchanges sent out by party officials during Mississippi’s budget impasse.

For that, you should be grateful.

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Last week, Jamie Franks, chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party, compared Gov. Haley Barbour to a child who’d gone out to play before finishing his chores. Franks, who ran for lieutenant governor in 2007 but lost to Republican Phil Bryant, suggested sending donations to New Hampshire, where Barbour had gone to lead a GOP fundraising event, to provide money for Barbour’s ticket home.

Franks also suggested that the Constitution empowered Bryant, as acting governor, to call a special session so that legislators could vote on a budget.

Brad White, chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party, responded with, “The last time Jamie Franks described his vision for the lieutenant governor’s office, Mississippians overwhelmingly rejected it and nothing has changed. Democrats need to tell their own House leadership to create a fair, responsible, sustainable budget. Once they do, I’m sure Gov. Barbour will call them in to session so they can pass it.”

And so the rhetoric goes.

Earlier, in the impasse, Franks chastised Sen. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, a lead conferee, for traveling in North Mississippi, where he may be a U.S. House candidate next year.

“Republicans in the Legislature have decided that their political futures are more important than the future and well-being of the people of Mississippi,” Franks trumpeted. “Instead of doing the work they are paid to do, they abdicated their authority to the governor in a purely politically calculated scheme.”

And when Rep. Dirk Dedeaux, D-Perkinston, was “caught” at Disney World during “negotiations,” White had this to offer: “I’ve always believed many of Mississippi’s House Democrats were on Space Mountain in a metaphorical sense, but it turns out the House Medicaid chairman could be there in reality.”

And White continued: “I don’t begrudge a man for a family vacation. But public service is a sacrifice and if it is one Dedeaux is unwilling to make, he should consider another line of work. When the voters hear that Mickey Mouse is more important to Dedeaux than Medicaid, they may make that choice for him.”

Of course, it’s the job of political parties to bait one another, to seek advantage or exploit any slip by a member of the loyal opposition.

Further, cleverness should be appreciated. “Gotcha” is a fun game — one broadcasters love — and a well-turned phrase that sums up a situation is very much in keeping with the American way of conducting the public’s business.

The problem arises when banter is all there is in a discussion.

What, substantively, have been the differences between competing positions on the budget?

What are the factors?

What are the options?

It’s these things the press, again from my limited viewpoint, has been trying to ascertain. Yet all we get are quips.

Through all of this, you, the public, while largely being spared of the “wit” of the party chiefs, have also been denied any information on substantive differences that led to the stalemate.

And that, of course, may have led you to one conclusion: Perhaps there aren’t any substantive issues.

Republicans and Democrats are equally to blame for the charade that has gone on for the past six months.

The state has ample money to cover its basic responsibilities.

But party chiefs have been too busy being clever to let that happen.