Columns » Max Brantley

Signifying nothing

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Politicians speak, reporters record, readers read. Often, no one stops to think how little the sound and fury may mean. Two examples from last week: The Hon. Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security at the Department of Homeland Security, jetted into Little Rock for a photo op with state troopers. He delivered a $29 million homeland defense check to a grateful Arkansas (which Asa would like to serve as governor). Hutchinson knocked out a straw man in his remarks, widely quoted. He said there are many who question the wisdom of sending homeland security money to rural states like Arkansas. (Really? Who?) Ignore such critics, Hutchinson said. The terrorists know the nation's weak spots. If Arkansas isn't adequately protected, it will be a prime target. No one wants to make light of terrorism. Indeed, a sleepy rural state might be an evilly inspired place for terrorists to strike. But here's the thing. Much of the money that Hutchinson delivered apparently will be spent on "wireless communication." In other words, it will purchase radios for "first responders" - fire, medical and police personnel - so they can communicate after something terrible has happened. Will it really deter terrorists to know our ambulances have the latest radios? It was opportunistic blather. It sounded good on TV. Thanks for the money, Asa. Next time save the taxpayers some jet fuel and put it in an envelope with a 37-cent stamp. Then there was Gov. Mike Huckabee's release on his meetings with Japanese auto executives about an assembly plant. He assured the citizenry that Japanese executives like to look you in the eye to determine if you're sincere. If Japanese can determine sincerity by peering into eyeballs, they are crafty indeed. (And it's not particularly good for us if the Huckster is the one getting the eyeballing.) Huckabee also issued this boilerplate blather: "I learned on my trip that Japanese executives have a healthy respect for the work ethic of Arkansans. They're also aware of the natural beauty of our state and the hospitality of our people. These are executives who have come to understand what Arkansas offers in terms of workforce, natural resources and overall business climate." Stipulated: Arkansas is a beautiful state with hard-working, hospitable people. So are the other 49 states. Think about it. If Arkansas is so superior, why are we so far behind? Business climate, now that's relevant. Huckabee could have been very specific: "The Japanese like our East Arkansas site. It's near a major railroad, two interstates and the Mississippi River. Plus, they know the electric co-op cut a heckuva deal on electric rates to land a steel plant a few years ago. We outlaw union shops and our wages are low. Our workers comp system rewards employers, not workers. Corporate income tax? There probably won't be any, thanks to our loopholes. We're well situated to serve the Mid-America market. We might be short on educated workers, but Memphis will more than pick up the slack. Plus, we're so needy, we'll give them whatever corporate welfare they require." Now that would be worth quoting.

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