Home>Feature>The O’Toole Chronicles: Taking Credit for Doing Nothing

Kevin J. O'Toole, the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is a former New Jersey State Senator. (Photo: Kevin J. O'Toole.)

The O’Toole Chronicles: Taking Credit for Doing Nothing

By Kevin O'Toole, November 30 2021 12:01 am

Many politicians suffer from a delusion. I too have suffered this condition. But I am now cured and hope to pass along some appropriate and powerful medicine.

What am I talking about?

Far too many of us have shamelessly taken credit for things beyond our control or for things that we had absolutely nothing to do with. So what is new?

Beyond the press releases about some bill that you co-sponsored (code for: you did nothing but have an aide add your name to it), beyond the functional ribbon cuttings, many legislators love to trumpet the tax dollars that somehow manage to find a way into their district.  Do not be alarmed—this practice has been going on since the days of Filofaxes and beepers. So why question it now?

Fair question, but you need to ask yourself as you gut check and as you sit in the MTV-like confessional room—did you have anything remotely to do with that action? Is there more to this life than political wins and losses?

Don’t get me wrong, the astute and nimble politician should take credit for any positive political news that hits your town or district. The political kabuki theatre and sequencing that happens is something that many pols take full advantage of. That is our nature, and those are the rules of the world we call politics.

However, let’s break down the reality. For example, a state budget passes, and the state legislator rolls out a parade of releases about loads of money and grants coming down the pike. The truth looks different. Very few legislators have proximity to carving out real dollars for specific spending, leadership and budget members aside.

But as sure as the New York Yankees are blowing another season, the average politician will start taking note of and credit for the district windfalls, when, in reality, they had very little to do with the good fortune.

Social media will be lit up daily for weeks as the legislator crows about new transportation projects, school funding, new social programs, additional hospital aid, environmental programs, or college funding, just to name a few. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Beyond the murky headlines and unearned social media hits, however, what have you truly left behind?

Most politicians live in the moment, and many do not look beyond today. Granted, the deep thinkers might mentally venture to their next election. But is that enough?

When reduced to the core, ask yourself: what will be your mark in life?

Did you really change a life? Alter a reality? Save a life? Reach behind the normal, safe political boundaries?

At the end of the day, the magic carpet ride will be over sooner than you think, and then you will need to look into that proverbial mirror and ask yourself (or someone will ask), what was your greatest legislative accomplishment? What was the mark you left behind?  Weighty and profound questions.

I hope that our political leaders can strive to create an unparalleled good or break a boundary or simply work to accomplish things that go beyond the rote credit-taking on the tides of predictable political waves.

Let’s get real. Make a real mark. Work on something life changing, and act with great urgency on something revolutionary.

Just saying.

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