A-Rod, Banking Bailouts and Public Policy

A familiar theme emerged during Alex Rodriguez’s ESPN interview about his use of performance-enhancing drugs as a member of the Texas Rangers from 2001 to 2003. Although A-Rod acknowledged his use of the substances, he repeatedly indicated that it was part of the culture at the time. As if to somehow excuse his actions, over the course of the interview, he made statements such as:

  • “Back then, it was a different culture. It was very loose.”
  • “It was such a loosey-goosey era.”

  • “The culture, it was pretty prevalent. There were a lot of people doing a lot of things.”

  • “It comes back to the culture was much different.”

Rodriguez’ comments may have had a familiar ring because officials from the banking industry employed a similar rationale when they attempted to explain why – after receiving huge government bailouts — they were still treating their employees to bonuses and trips to lavish resorts.

“Recognition events are still part of our culture,” Wells Fargo spokeswoman Melissa Murray said in defense of an all-expense paid Las Vegas casino junket for its employees. The bank, which received $25 billion in taxpayer bailout money, eventually cancelled the trip in the wake of heavy criticism from lawmakers and consumer groups. But the Bank of America went through with a $10 million Super Bowl party, an event that spokesman Lawrence DiRita described as “part of our traditional banking business.”

And here in New Jersey, former Hamilton Township Township councilman Jack Lacy attempted to deflect criticism over sending an email with racial overtones by pointing out that it had already circulated millions of times over the internet.

In all of these cases, people were justifying their actions by claiming they were common practice. Try using that logic the next time a police officer pulls you over for speeding.

On a broader scale, this is a troubling pattern that has the potential to impact public policy – both in our state and in our nation.

Do we want lawmakers who are reluctant to get to the roots of the problems that confront us because they are just part of an entrenched culture? Or do we want people who are leaders and will challenge the status quo? It is a question that is very relevant during African American History Month. Where would America be today if our nation had been willing to accept racism and discrimination as part of its culture?

In New Jersey, there are many roadblocks standing in the way of change. For example, it is a common belief that towns will not consolidate because of home rule; pension reform will not occur because the unions will resist it; lawmakers will not increase the gas tax because of the political consequences, and so on. It is a list that is long and continues to grow. None of these roadblocks will be hurdled if lawmakers are willing to accept them as the status quo.

As members of the public, we have a similar responsibility. How often do we hear, “It doesn’t matter who I vote for; things will never change” or “You can’t fight City Hall”? The truth is if we don’t vote and we don’t voice our opinions, that is a sure way to guarantee that our desire for change will never be realized.

The solutions to New Jersey’s problems will not be easy. In fact, they may be painful and politically unpopular. But if we are to move forward in the 21st Century, we cannot succeed if we are content to dismiss our problems as just another part of our culture.

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