Thursday, October 23, 2008

My one political foray this season: No on Issue 6

Here's the text of a letter to the editor that I submitted to the Cincinnati Enquirer ... thus far they have chosen not to print it. So, I thought I'd share it with you. It's an article encouraging a "No" vote on Issue 6: the Ohio Casino Initiative.

There is an episode of The Simpsons in which a con man comes to Springfield promising a solution to the town’s economic woes in the great benefit of a monorail. It’s part of a rich tradition of popular entertainment that relies on the motif of the smooth talking con-man who plays on the fears of the populace in order to fleece them. Think of Henry Hill in The Music Man and Starbuck in The Rainmaker. These popular stories teach us a basic truth: hucksters capitalize on fear, promise a great benefit, and get us to support their schemes. When they’ve made their money, they skip town leaving the citizenry holding the bag.

That’s exactly the sense I get when viewing the advertisements supporting Issue 6. These advertisements appeal to fear: fear that Ohio is missing out on great casino windfalls; fear that we’re falling behind other states; and fear that if we don’t do something – anything – soon then we’ll fall further behind. Their solution is a casino.

This primary appeal to fear should be a loud warning signal. Fear shuts down rational thinking. The fear that casino backers try to arouse distracts us from the truth that Issue 6 would create an unfair monopoly in the state for one casino. This same fear distracts us from the truth that our country is already saturated with casinos and gambling establishments. The dream of easy windfall profits is an illusion that will fade in the harsh reality of competing in an overdeveloped gambling market. Again, this fear diverts our attention from the truth that the profits will be leeched mainly out of the paychecks of Ohio’s citizens, rather than out of some imaginary tourist boom. What money the casino does make will be siphoned off out of the state into the pockets of the gambling industry.

In his second inaugural address, Franklin Roosevelt reminded us that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Rather than caving in to our fears, let’s put our energies and our hopes and our thinking into what we in Ohio do well. Let’s invest in agriculture to take advantage of the coming biofuel boom. Let’s work together to make our manufacturing the best in the world again. Let’s encourage entrepreneurs who actually make products that add value. Let’s develop tourism around the areas where we’re already strong: arts, sports, outdoor recreation, to name a few.

On election day, say no to the fear mongering of Issue 6, but then let’s get creative about building on our existing strengths.

Russell Smith is pastor of Covenant-First Presbyterian Church. These views do not necessarily reflect the position of the church, but his own as a private citizen.