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C. Fraser Smith: What we all missed

Old, slightly modified, newspaper joke:

What is a columnist?

A columnist is someone who sits  on the hilltop while the battle rages. When it’s all over, he rides down and shoots the wounded.

Translation: It’s easy for him to judge, he had no skin in the game. It’s easy for him to take shots at the risk-takers, the combatants who care enough to take risks.

Something you know if you’re ever a candidate.

This year, though, columnists and commentators are getting theirs. They’ve ended up down the hill, taking shots for being wrong and even unprofessional.

They’re feeling the BURN from the BERN. And scorn from the Trumpster. (Probably time to stop using cutesy, no-chance nicknames. We’re past the funny and into the OMG phase.)

Signs on the wall

Some further random observations:

We should have listened more carefully to the Occupy movement forces. They knew which way the wind was blowing.

We should have remembered James Carville, the Clintonista  who famously said: “It’s about the economy, stupid.” Of course, now there’s a codicil to his mantra: It’s about failed government and, sadly, probably about race and religion and political correctness.

Some say failed government was planned by Republicans to create the scenario we’re living through with themselves as beneficiaries — not Trump.

Odd to see the progressive Democratic socialist and the populist tycoon feasting on the same delicious spread of discontent, the same disaffection of the American people.

Trump borrows from Johnny Carson, Walter Cronkite, Ronald Reagan and others who were stars with TV charisma. Many people trusted them. And now it’s a real world Trump promising he can make deals and fire people as if it were just TV. His promises seem to be working. Isn’t that ironic given that people have tended to sneer at politicians’ who promise to get elected.

And another reversal: GOP leaders worry – not that he’ll lose – but that he will win. If he wins, doesn’t he become head of their party?

Of course the Democrats are in the same situation: Can either Bernie or Hillary beat Donnie? Anyone who thinks the answer is obvious hasn’t learned anything over the last six or eight months.

And what about the news media? Donald has owned us. He knows tweets; he can get on the tube by calling in. Unheard of before. But rating wars seem to have changed the game.

Has the news media played its fact-checking role? I think the answer is largely: It has. Trump has said, he could shoot someone in Times Square and not lose ground. That’s been the case. Won’t last? It’s lasting.

The local story

And what about the race for mayor:

We need a lot more passion in this race. Our city is hurting. Health indices in a lot of neighborhoods look like Sandtown-Winchester, where Freddie Gray lived. Life expectancy in these areas can be many years less than in mostly white neighborhoods.

I heard this morning from a reputable source that voters in one effective social service program have just given up.

After Freddie Gray some said, “Now you’ll see some action.” Embarrassed authorities will rush in with relief supplies

Others said: “No you won’t. When the cameras go away, we’ll get the same attention we always get – None at all.” They were mostly right.

And yet — not right.

The city bristles with active, committed people. Johns Hopkins Hospital and the University of Maryland, Baltimore have stepped up in smart, meaningful ways. What they are doing – creating partnerships with neighborhood groups – is a portrait of the new reality. City government doesn’t have and may never again have resources commensurate with the need.

So how has that shaped the race for mayor? Hardly at all.

So far, it’s been a passion-free race – characterized by one question: Will Baltimore re-elect a former mayor, Sheila Dixon, who was ushered from office for stealing gift cards meant for poor kids?  But is that really the only issue? Who do we think will address the city’s entrenched poverty and joblessness? Who can assemble a talented team of people who want to struggle against imposing odds?

Many Baltimoreans are engaged in improving the deplorable living conditions, the shamefully ignored misery and despair.

Veteran cadres soldier on, knowing they have always been the answer. Massive government rescues are not happening.

It’s up to us, as always.

A good leader would improve the odds.

 C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. His email address is fsmith@wypr.org.