The esteemed sports reporter and columnist Sam Mellinger recently graced these pages with his views on a proposed new terminal for Kansas City International Airport.
It’s about time someone brought some sense to the discussion, and Sam was the guy to do it. To summarize: He thinks KCI is pretty great for his needs, but the city should build a new terminal anyway.
Let’s consider the interesting and important implications of his argument.
Most Americans believe voters cast ballots based on self-interest: my job, my taxes, my schools, my health care. Political decisions reflect the aggregate desires of a self-centered electorate.
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Mellinger’s column, on the other hand, suggests we see the concept of self-interest too narrowly. Sam is willing to support a terminal that may increase inconvenience for him now because he believes it ultimately will be better for the community at large.
To be clear: Sam isn’t saying his interests are less important than yours. He’s saying his long-term interests are best served by a healthy city, not just his personal comfort.
Now expand that idea to see how it works in other circumstances. KCI is a good place to start.
There have been signs in recent weeks that political leaders want Burns & McDonnell to design the new terminal because it’s a local company. Better to keep all that money in Kansas City, the theory goes.
That makes short-term sense. It’s a lot of cash.
But consider what would happen if every city in America restricted its public works projects to locally-owned firms. Burns & McDonnell would go out of business because it would have no clients except Kansas City.
The company doesn’t want that. It must look past its immediate short-term interests for the longer-term goal of fair treatment in other communities.
That’s why Burns & Mac is best served by an open competition for the airport contract, as uncomfortable as that might be.
Widen your gaze further and the story is even more clear. Kansans elected lawmakers who raised taxes to fund schools, roads and prisons — making communities smarter and safer. Kansans see their own long-term interests protected in that outcome.
Kansas Citians approved an $800 million bond issue, reflecting a similar long-term approach.
Health care reform, climate change, infrastructure — our biggest challenges could use a healthy dose of that perspective.
Perhaps by now, you (maybe even Sam) believe I’ve written another quasi-socialist tract, boosting collectivism over individualism.
No. The idea of a longer-term focus on self-interest has long been a Republican staple. Free trade, Republicans believe, ultimately expands jobs and income, unlike high import taxes and protectionism.
Republicans distrust government, but they trust community: churches, social clubs, schools and sports associations.
That’s why blue-collar supporters of Donald Trump seem unfazed by cuts to Medicaid or jobs programs. They see their self-interest more broadly and longer-term: Trump, they think, can restore discarded community values of hard work and self-reliance.
That’s more important, they think, than cutting food stamps.
They’ve got a point, one that Democrats and liberals ignore at their peril. Self-interest isn’t limited to the wallet, they’re telling America. Some things are more important than that.
Sam Mellinger’s KCI column suggested something subtle and important: not a swing for the fences, but a sacrifice.
Sometimes, an out can help a team win a game. That’s how ballplayers think, and how cities move into the future.