It is in the nature of some of our lesser politicians to grandstand, to publicly exaggerate so that both their voters and dollar donors see they are getting their money’s worth. One way for mediocre politicians to publicly satisfy is to promote themselves as bravely standing up against bad guys. Even if the bad guy role has to be embellished a little for the occasion.
Making highways safer is a vital work, and many of our elected representatives are diligently doing it. But it is all too easy for a politician to jump on a bandwagon like a second-rate television actress grasping at a disease-of-the-month role. So, somewhere in his populist ‘safer roads campaign’ our run of the mill politico is likely to take a shot at over-the-road truckers. Why? Because it’s easy, and because much of his audience will cheer it at face value. So, as if he was in an old school play, he steps forth to heroically take on the bad guy. And the bad guy is effortlessly written into his script as an OTR trucker.
You are easily cast as the Big Bad Wolf of folklore. We have come to understand that wolves are a valuable part of the balance of nature. Neither ‘good’ nor ‘evil’ in their world. But in stories since ancient times, and today in comics, television, video games, movies and animated action, they come with a bad name. The three little pigs are always the good guys. The wolf is automatically bad, usually an overheated caricature of bad. When BBW swaggers into the scene we know we are seeing wickedness personified. And many a politician knows that when it comes to highway safety, the OTR trucker can be a handy dandy BBW.
But what if the pigs were money-grubbing developers who disregarded every environmental requirement and law of decency to throw out grieving widows and poor orphans to build their straw/stick/brick model houses? What if the wolf was really cleaning up the neighborhood for environmentally friendly, affordable housing? With his rep, he’d still find it hard to find believers.
Not all truckers and trucking companies are good highway citizens. We know that. But it’s wrong to tar and feather all of them as dangers or taxable targets that should pay more to use the road. It is all the more wrong when that is done simply because they are an easy mark. It’s a sucker punch. Truckers and trucking groups have to fight an uphill battle to have the public listen evenhandedly to their point of view after years of incendiary politicians pouring gasoline on their “truckers are a problem” fire.
So I have a challenge for politicians.
I just got back from the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky. I drove there and back. Total, more than 900 interstate miles. I want to ask any politician who feels the need to assail ‘big bad’ truckers to ride along with one. Get off your official seats and into a tractor with a loaded trailer behind. Go help deliver something of value to America (that’s what truckers do). Because if you see out there what I saw out there you will realize that OTR truckers are not BBWs. Oh, you’ll see one or two that need to fall into big pots of boiling water. But you will also see all sorts of other highway safety problems that you can productively (as in saving lives) address.
Before you decide to tax truckers twice with fees and tolls, before you decide to restrict them to the granny lane or limit their progress with dual speed limits, before you decide which ones are safe and which aren’t, before you legislate that fuel must contain some biodiesel or regulate their working day, go ride along with one. But know this: it’s going to take some backbone to stand up and say, hey, maybe truckers aren’t the big bad wolves we’ve been making them out to be all these years.
It is, fortunately, still true in America that saying the right thing, rather than the popular thing, can make you a better representative of the people.