So there I was, sitting on a comfortable bench at the Registry of
Motor Vehicles office at the Liberty Tree Mall and reading
Robert Kelly's 2011 book on "the closest presidential
elections," which I'd been saving for election year 2012.
I'd already read about
John Adams vs. Thomas Jefferson, 1796, through Grover Cleveland vs.
James Blaine, 1884. I figured a wait at the Registry might allow me
to get through another hundred years.
But as I glanced at my
customer number, I noticed it said "waiting time eight minutes."
Eight minutes! I won't even get through Grover Cleveland vs.
Twelve minutes later I
was out the door with my temporary updated driver's license, its new
photo now showing my hair white, not red. Time to go back to work;
more chapters of "Neck & Neck to the White House" had to wait.
Since my birthday is
next week, it's fortunate that Gov. Patrick mentioned cutting the
Registry budget in his State of the State address on Jan. 25,
sending me to my wallet to check my license renewal date and then to
The Registry seems to
be one example of a state agency that works efficiently, with
pleasant personnel in a very nice setting. Patrick is cutting its
budget by $15 million, perhaps on the assumption that it's efficient
enough to find savings or new advertising revenue.
In the past, Citizens
for Limited Taxation has objected to the amount of Registry fees,
since they cover far more than the cost of providing direct Registry
services. This means that by definition these aren't fees, but
taxes. However, we've lost to the counter-argument that the Registry
fees help pay for driver-related services like highways, including
the state police.
If this is valid, it's
probably also been successfully argued that the same "fees" can be
used for Boston's Rose Kennedy Greenway, which for some reason is
partly taxpayer-funded through the state Department of
So, the efficient
Registry of Motor Vehicles, which generates revenues for the state,
may have its budget cut; yet taxpayers will continue to fund the
Greenway so it can pay six-figure salaries to its executives who
allowed its sod to be trampled by the Occupy Movement last fall.
In my opinion, since
the Registry doesn't need $15 million for providing direct services
to drivers, the fees/taxes should be reduced. Since that won't
happen, the fees/taxes should be used to maintain the roads and
bridges we drive on. And the Occupiers should pay to clean up any
damage they cause in public parks.
Speaking of drivers,
why is the proposed ban on handheld cellphones while driving so
controversial? Didn't we learn in high school driver's ed. to keep
both hands on the wheel?
Of course, the
momentary move to push a button on the radio, or sip coffee, is
reasonably allowed; but it's OK to hold a phone to the ear for an
entire conversation, which, by the way, takes the brain to another
planet when it should be paying attention to the road?
finally passed a law against texting while driving, but it's hard to
enforce because police can't easily tell if a driver is texting or
dialing. Ban the handheld phone, enforcement problem solved; though
the driver's absent brain will still be a concern.
Moving on to another
item I noted in the State of the State address: Gov. Patrick wants
to coordinate the commonwealth's community college system, tailoring
some of its mission to workforce development.
This is one of those
proposals to which some of us respond: You mean you're not doing
Community colleges have
long been the best place to get the continuing education that
high-school graduates may need to find jobs. With four-year college
costs out of control, their administrative salaries and perks
outrageous, the community colleges are a much better alternative for
I think the Patrick
proposal makes sense, as long as everyone is careful not to plug the
community colleges into the higher ed. system run by Big Education,
which has become — like Big Business, Big Labor and Big Government —
part of America's present Big Problem.
This takes me back to
Kelly's book about the closest presidential elections in American
history, because I suspect we are about to have another one of
those. As the Peabody author writes in his conclusion about the 1884
election, it was "another example of intra-party squabbling denying
victory to a major party."
Grover Cleveland over anti-Catholic James Blaine wasn't the worst
thing that could have happened, since in that period Republicans
were "the party of big government;" but in 1888, Kelly recounts,
Republicans decided to go with "a new face, less vulnerable to
I'm getting to the part
where Benjamin Harrison is elected president after fending off 11
Republican opponents for the party's nomination. The Republican
platform supported civil rights, veterans' pensions, tariffs, and
interestingly, the elimination of polygamy.
This book is already
giving me the perspective I need to get through the 2012 election.
Kelly shows us that by
understanding history, not only may we not be doomed to repeat its
mistakes, but can also honor its occasional wisdom.