As advertised, I ran Sunday's Madison Marathon (slowly).
The night before the race my six-year-old daughter asked me if I was going to win. In attempting to explain to her that most marathon runners do not enter the races to win them, it occurred to me that I was trying to answer the question that most non-marathon runners ask: Why on Earth would anyone pay for the privilege of running 26.2 miles?
Running is a solitary activity, and most runners enjoy it for that reason. Why then do we make such a big deal about running together in large groups at annual events like the Madison Marathon?
I think what makes the marathon worthwhile for most of us is the kindness of the people who surround the event. Runners help each other with words of advice and encouragement in a way that is not consistent with the word "competition." Even more importantly, on Sunday all of the runners benefited from the selfless acts of people we didn't know and whose motivations I don't quite understand. There are hundreds of race volunteers who spent the day handing out cups of water and Gatorade, chunks of banana, and tubes of something called GU (sounds like "goo"). We were also helped along the way by police officers, unpaid race officials, fans and passers-by who didn't know us but yelled out our names because they were printed on our race bibs. Neighbors live along the race route blasted inspirational rock anthems out their windows.
How unfortunate, then, that so many of the thoughts running through my mind during the 4 hours and 43 minutes I spent plodding along the course had to do with the state budget and the recent announcement that state leaders were agreeing to more state employee layoffs and "furloughs," and across-the-board spending cuts. These reductions will mean less aid to the poor and the elderly, larger classes and fewer course offerings for public school children, less financial aid for college students whose parents aren't rich, fewer books in libraries-a lower quality of life for all of us, a dimmer future for the youngest among us, and desperation for those losing their jobs or their last shreds of dignity.
The small handful of commentators who still track state government mostly praised the governor and the Joint Finance Committee for making these "tough choices."
I disagree. The tough choice would have been the one that most commentators no longer even seem to consider: raising taxes. Among the state's editorialists, columnists, bloggers and radio commentators Ed Garvey is the only one I found making this obvious suggestion (The Republicans in the Legislature are saying the Democrats are raising taxes even though they aren't, but I don't think that counts.)
Other states are increasing taxes during these times when the circumstances so obviously demand it. The New York Times editorial page is encouraging states to do the right thing rather than further denigrate our economy and our future with draconian cuts and layoffs.
The logic behind cutting budgets during an economic downturn like the one we are in is faulty at best. It says that taxpayers cannot afford higher taxes when they are already losing their jobs and having their homes repossessed. But the unemployed do not pay income taxes. And when one level of government shortchanges us, like the state, the burden falls to another level of government or upon our most vulnerable fellow citizens.
But economic logic is not what takes tax increases off the table. It is the political logic that says it is harder to raise campaign money and win re-election if your opponent can say you raised taxes. It is mostly wrong: Incumbents almost always win no matter what they do. But the campaign professionals who generate the political logic don't specialize in taking risks and are not in the business of serving the public interest.
Strangers randomly arranged along marathon routes understand the concept of public service, but too many public servants do not.