Burned-out activists achieve much

August 25, 2010

In your recent article "Burnout is the common foe for the state's citizen activists," (Aug. 24), you quote anti-slots activist Aaron Meisner as saying "Slots sort of destroyed any optimism I had about political leadership...I had this naive, fundamental belief that there was a rational process, and what I came away with was---there is money, and there is nothing else."

I believe this is more a comment on the effects upon Mr. Meisner of his bruising battle with opponents far larger than himself then it is an accurate comment upon our elected leaders and a citizen's ability to make a difference. Mr. Meisner fought hard and long and at considerable personal sacrifice--so much so that perhaps he has forgotten that he won important battles and the slots picture today in Maryland is very different than it would have been without him.

However, Mr. Meisner and I part ways when he lends unintentional support to opportunistic populist politicians who have been waging a ruinous war in this country against the legitimacy of government itself. We live in a representational democracy--the greatest in the world. The government is elected by the citizenry, it is staffed by our neighbors and friends, and it is composed of our fellow citizens whom we are free to vote out if we wish. It is us.

The rhetorical separation of government from the voting public is a politically savvy ruse that we can no longer afford to tolerate. Yes, there is corporate money in politics, and yes, our political leadership is unduly influenced by it. They are also unduly influenced by public opinion polls. That's right, the voice of the people, however ignorant or misguided or sometimes wise, is very keenly attended to at the highest levels of our government on a daily basis. That is why Mr. Meisner is wrong when he blames corrupt political leaders and conniving corporate interests for the fact that slots are now an inevitability in the state of Maryland.

It was those very same leaders, forced by due process to pay attention to persons exactly like Mr. Meisner and his endless and convincing arguments about the faulty math of the slots lobby, who stalled slots in 2004 even amidst enormous political pressure from the governor's office, the gaming industry, and countless deep-pocketed business lobbying groups. Our elected representatives stood up and asserted their prerogative to stall or slow or modify a seemingly unstoppable political juggernaut, if bright and informed individuals like Mr. Meisner convinced them they and the public were being misled.

It was the will of the people, not government, that finally brought slots to Maryland through voter referendum. I suspect that Mr. Meisner is hardly alone by having taken away from his bruising and not-yet-done-for campaign only the most cynical of messages. But that does not make him right--just tired. Pogo has the last and best word on this: "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

Mark Thistel, Baltimore

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