Saturday, May 12, 2007

Tax Dollars for Flunkies

Tax Dollars for Flunkies

“And if you give me weed, whites and wine, and you show me a sign, then I’ll be willing, to be moving.”

-Lowell George (Linda Ronstadt)

Political candidates don’t need weed, whites and wine to get moving, but apparently they need an entourage.

To run for office means you never are lonely. Almost every modern candidate has a “posse” larger than a heavyweight boxer.

Republicans and Democrats disagree on many issues but seem to be unanimous on one point: none are in favor of dropping their posse.

Most flunkies are a combination of hubris and insecurity. Many are insufferable, self-important and afraid to leave the candidate’s side. Thus, they make it impossible for “real” people (people who don’t spend every waking second thinking about politics) to get near those supposedly running to serve them.

It’s not good for candidates and not good for the people that they will govern.

As bad as the “posse” gets on the campaign trail, it gets worse when a candidate wins and puts all of the coat holders on the government payroll.

On my list of ways the government wastes money, taxpayer-paid flunkies are at the top.

They don’t produce any beneficial services and often take the place of someone who can.

I’ve been an occasional campaign flunky, and in small doses, it can be fun. In 1988, I helped arrange for Al Gore to practice with the University of Kentucky basketball team. I drove his car, fetched his Diet Cokes and arranged for him to have gym clothes.

I didn’t buy the gym clothes myself. I had my campaign assistant (a flunky to the flunky) do that. But I handed Al the clothes and made sure they fit.

They did.

It was an important job, and I took it seriously. Probably too seriously.

Self-importance is a defining characteristic of campaign flunkies. Many view themselves as latter-day St. Peters guarding the pearly gates--even if they are a flunky for an assistant water works commissioner.

I don’t mind if the coat holders are volunteers and not paid staff. If someone wants to spend their free time buying a candidate’s underwear, I don’t see any harm in it.

I get annoyed, however, when a candidate wastes campaign donations on a large paid staff. I get out-and-out angry when that staff winds up on the government payroll.

I’ve watched “debates” this year for candidates running for president. No candidate has ever mentioned cutting back on their entourage or perks.

Even the wacky guy from Alaska didn’t touch the issue. I KNOW he doesn’t have an entourage.

Cutting back on perks used to be a hot topic.

In the 1970’s, California Governor Jerry Brown made national news by living in an apartment instead of the California Governor’s mansion.

Brown was incredibly popular at the time. His approval rate broke records, and he won every presidential primary that he entered in 1976. He got in late and was up against Jimmy Carter, who also preached austerity. Carter carried his own luggage and stayed at supporters’ houses to save money.

Frugality was an issue then. It is forgotten now.

As candidates fly to campaign fundraisers in corporate jets that they borrowed from their “friends,” I wonder how many meet an average person in an average day.

I’m sure that their entourages can ward off encounters with any real people--except for the occasional photo ops with bellhops in their hotel suites.

I’d like some assurance that public officials pick their advisors because of their capacity to serve the public, not because of their ability fetch Diet Coke.

I’m not sure what kind of person would really want to be a professional coat holder. Anyone willing to do it for a career would have to have a distorted view of the world.

I don’t want that distorted view in the West Wing.

I understand that presidents and presidential candidates need to have tight security around them. I’m not so sure that people running for governor or city counsel do.

Having an entourage seems to almost be a pre-requisite for running for office these days.

I’m going to vote for the first person to break the trend.

Don McNay is Chairman of the Board for McNay Settlement Group in Richmond, Ky., where we don’t spend clients’ money on flunkies. His award-winning column is syndicated on the CNHI News Service. You can write to him at and read other things he has written at He is on the Board of Directors for the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

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