Cynical? Let me count the ways

Robert McCartney
Columnist September 22, 2012

When I started this gig in 2009 by writing a starry-eyed first column about helping the Washington region, veteran activist Ralph Nader left me a long voice-mail message welcoming my idealism. He concluded, “Don’t get jaded.”

I’m trying, Ralph. But three events this month have left me thinking that believing the best about people is just naïve.

Robert McCartney’s column on local issues appears Thursdays and Sundays in The Post’s Metro section. View Archive

My disillusionment arises from actions by a presidential candidate, professional football players and casino companies. Hardly a promising bunch, I concede. I was disappointed, nonetheless.

First, I was genuinely surprised that a man as well educated and accomplished as Mitt Romney would be so ignorant as to think the poor and unemployed depend so much on government that they feel no “personal responsibility.”

That was a core part of the Republican nominee’s remarks, in a private meeting with campaign donors in May, about “the 47 percent” who pay no federal income taxes.

I invite Romney to visit the Jubilee Jobs placement center in Adams Morgan for an encounter with reality. More than 100 patient, neatly dressed people show up every two weeks for training courses and other help finding minimum-wage jobs paying $8.25 an hour. They hope to make fries at McDonald’s, serve meals at nursing homes or mop floors at government agencies.

The enrollees demonstrate “personal responsibility” by being precisely on time: One minute late for any class or appointment, and they’re out the door. Ties are required for men, and skirts or dresses for women.

“We’re not pushing anybody to get in the job market. They are totally self-motivated,” Jubilee Jobs Executive Director Terry Flood said.

The nonprofit, which receives no government funding, has placed 693 people in entry-level jobs this year. Experience suggests that more than two-thirds of them will hold the job for at least six months.

When asked about Romney’s view that low-income people feel like victims entitled to handouts, Flood said: “I don’t know anybody like that. I’m amazed at what they can do with so little and the struggles that they go through to survive.”

Turning to sports, I was dismayed that the absence of regular referees at National Football League games (because of a labor dispute) has prompted the players to drop any semblance of athletic discipline. Instead, they consciously indulge in brazen thuggery.

I know hard hits and mental intimidation are part of the game I love to watch. But I also imagined that professionals took sportsmanship seriously.

Last Sunday, we saw a St. Louis Rams player shove Redskins linebacker London Fletcher’s head into the turf — obviously deliberately — when the inexperienced replacement officials weren’t watching. It’s clear the players are no better (and more dangerous) than elementary school kids misbehaving with a substitute teacher.

“I think we’ve regressed back to a more antagonistic state,” said Redskins great Joe Theismann, now a broadcast commentator.

Finally, the multimillion-dollar television ad war over whether to expand casino gambling in Maryland has revealed a case of corporate double-talk shameful enough to turn anyone skeptical.

The relentless commercials square off over Question 7 in a state referendum in November. The measure would authorize a casino to be built in Prince George’s County, and table games such as blackjack and craps to be offered statewide.

Ads opposing Question 7 express outrage that the proposal would “cut taxes for billionaire casino special interests.” They ask provocatively why politicians negotiated secretly “with out-of-state casino interests.”

Guess what. Penn National Gaming, an out-of state casino company, has contributed nearly $10 million to pay for those ads. It’s one of the “billionaire casino special interests” that would benefit from the tax cut.

Why, then, is it trashing the proposal? Because Penn National’s biggest interest is blocking construction of that Prince George’s casino, which would compete with Penn National’s thriving casino in Charles Town, W.Va.

Penn National surely would be spending megabucks on the other side of the issue if it thought the new casino would go into Rosecroft Raceway, which it owns. The company has lobbied heavily for that site but thinks the Prince George’s government would insist on putting it at National Harbor.

“They were all in favor of expanding gambling [in Maryland], just so long as it expanded on their property,” said Tony Batt, a Washington-based reporter for Gambling Compliance, a Web site that follows the international gambling industry.

I have long thought that journalists must make a special effort to resist cynicism. It’s a chronic professional malady for people working to expose our leaders’ lies and our institutions’ shortcomings.

Right now, however, I’m thinking I haven’t been cynical enough. Sorry, Ralph.

For previous Robert McCartney columns, go to washingtonpost.com/mccartney.

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