By James J. Baxter, NMA President Emeritus
Editor’s Note: We’re going to play a little game: Can you guess when Jim wrote this newsletter with its references to government entities increasing ticket penalties, the ramping up of enforcement campaigns, and pronouncements of motorized traffic being responsible for all that is wrong in the world? It is the contemporaneous companion to last week’s e-newsletter (NTSB Wants to Turn Our Highways into a For-Profit Police State, #447) with some Vision Zero dogma thrown in, right? Read it first and then scroll down just past “NMA Blog Posts you might have missed this week” for the answer. No fair peeking in advance.
The newspapers and radio and TV programs runneth over with anguish over state and local governments’ budgetary shortfalls. What doesn’t make the front pages or the six pm news hour is the unofficial “Whisper War” against the population at large.
The number one priority of all governmental entities and bureaucracies is “survival.” It is imperative that the paramount essential function be maintained, collecting revenue. If the normal extraction of taxes from the populace doesn’t keep up with government demands, government must find other ways to fulfill its needs. Hence the Whisper War.
You won’t see Mayor Gambino, Senator Capone, or Council Woman Barker call a news conference announcing their decision to raise fines, intensify enforcement, reduce access to courts, or pass several new ordinances with stiff forfeitures to maintain cash flow into governmental coffers. (I hasten to add that sacrifices will be offered, for example eliminating trash collection and road maintenance, and closing the fire department.) What will happen, and is happening, is the Whisper War from the top down. “Raise the fines, step up enforcement, no tolerance or warnings, make that common practice illegal” and “let’s get some of those cameras that issue tickets.”
Just to short circuit the possibility that the public might actually resist an onslaught of tickets, fines, regulations and inspections; new procedures are instituted to divert malcontents to “administrative hearings” where real due process is extinct. All these actions are taken in the name of “protecting the children” or “making the neighborhood safer.” For good measure, there may be a reference to “rooting out terrorists.”
The biggest, most affluent, compliant, and susceptible target in the Whisper War is the American motorist. Well accustomed to pointless laws, arbitrary enforcement, rapacious fines, and a judicial system that survives by milking drivers, most motorists are conditioned to regulatory and financial exploitation. (As well they should be, given that drivers and cars and trucks are responsible for all that is wrong in the world—as evidenced every day in various public pronouncements.) A 20 percent increase in fines because “we must enforce voluntary compliance” will be taken in stride. A new surcharge for head injury victims seems reasonable. Increasing court costs 50 percent to modernize the courthouse appears to have merit, even if it takes an act of Congress to get an actual trial. As long as some flimsy excuse is offered for the increased level of government sponsored extortion, 200 million American motorists “suck it up” and drive on.
Ever think about what would happen if they said “no, we’re not going to take it anymore?”