The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

August 30, 2013

Politics and honest work

By Gary Grossman
The Daily Item

— My first paying job was as a softball chaser for a nighttime industrial league at Lone Palm Stadium. The job was to take off after foul balls that popped behind the backstop or flew over the bleachers, hunt them down wherever they came to rest and return them to the umpire between innings.

Let me explain how I failed.

One, outside the stadium, it was dark. Two, the name of the stadium grossly understated its proximity to densely-populated palm groves. Three, at night, the difference between downed coconuts and softballs is not as distinct as people imagine. On the ground, coconuts dry out, bleach in the sun and somehow naturally burrow into the sand so that only their round, softball-like sides remain exposed.

In the intervening decades, I held and left maybe a dozen jobs and had ups and downs — of my own making — in what people refer to as a career.

Along the way, I encountered a small army — probably more like a fire team or squad — of folks with “relative ability,” meaning that the reason they had their job was clouded by the fact that they were related to somebody important.

(Relative ability isn’t simply who you know. That is networking. Everybody does that. A swimming coach, who knew to the tenth of a second how long I could stay afloat under duress, gave me my first lifeguard job.)

Relative ability attaches to those whose employment opportunities are backed by a gene pool. At my first newspaper, relative ability appeared every summer in the person of interns whose fathers were publishers at other newspapers or whose family members held some executive position at The Wall Street Journal, the mother ship for that newspaper company.

The interns were uniformly polite, well-mannered and professionally groomed. Some took the work seriously. Some were talented.  They were all on their way to some place bigger, some place better. They knew it. We knew it.

Within family businesses, dictatorships and monarchies, this is the accepted way of the world. In the land of opportunity, home of legendary bootstrap success and ballyhooed meritocracy, however, the appearance of relative ability among rulers is still viewed with mistrust, as it should be.

We carried a story last week about Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s twin sister’s promotion and $13,652 raise to chief deputy attorney general following her sister’s election. That piece included the fact that Gov. Tom Corbett’s daughter, Katherine Corbett-Gibson, could also be found among the ranks of deputy attorneys general, hired by interim appointed Attorney General Linda Kelly, who succeeded Tom Corbett.

The department spokesman dutifully spotlighted that neither Kane’s sister nor Corbett’s daughter were hired by, nor directly reported to, any blood kin. Still, it stretches credulity to believe that the workplace is equal in all respects for the twin sister and or favored daughter of the two highest office holders in the state.

While neither Kane nor Corbett holds a candle to the Kennedy, Cuomo, Bush or Clinton legacies, it is fair for the public to wonder why all these highly qualified people cannot strike out on their own in another line of work or at least share their gifts and ply their skills in a different — less clouded — jurisdiction.

When Hillary Clinton runs for president again, she will, doubtless, emphasize her dedicated public service as a former secretary of state, former New York senator and former candidate for president, instead of her role as former first lady.

For most working Americans on this Labor Day weekend, however, that dedication to her husband, and perhaps to his legacy, represents a life-altering experience. No single act hastened the dissolution of the American middle class faster than Bill Clinton’s North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The Department of Labor counts the top three occupations in the country these days as sales persons, cashiers and food service workers — mostly part-time, entry level, minimum wage jobs, best suited to youth workers and former ball chasers for the industrial softball league.

When Chelsea Clinton settles into working a drive-through window for real, it may change minds about fairness and the ruling class.

Until then, politicians can skip the Labor Day speeches.