Jerusalem – Earlier this month, in a defiant speech to his Kadima party, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert defended his record. Again and again Olmert wore his unpopularity as a badge of honor and, rattling off numerous challenges that he was ostensibly addressing, said, “This is my place of work.”
Unfortunately, unpopularity is not always a sign of principle, as Olmert would have us believe. Moreover, Olmert’s case for his achievements is largely beside the point.
If, by some miracle, Olmert managed to convince the public that he handled the war better than they thought, it would not revive his political fortunes. Olmert’s biggest problem is not past failure, but present paralysis.
The refrain “This is my place of work” was meant to paint a picture of a leader who, oblivious to the polls, is quietly working to advance the national interest. No one, however, believes this, and it should be obvious that declaring it so will have little impact.
Olmert must rebuild his credibility before he can draw upon it and say, in effect, “Trust me, I’m taking care of the public’s interest.”
Actions speak louder than spin. What could Olmert do to demonstrate that he is hard at work for the public, and not just his political survival?
Save lives on the roads. For years politicians have talked about “declaring war” against road carnage, which costs some 500 lives each year, cumulatively many more than all wars and terrorism combined. Most of these lives could be saved by emulating the speed-camera programs that have drastically reduced road deaths in the United Kingdom, France, and Australia.
A pilot program for a national speed camera system has been prepared within the Internal Security Ministry, yet the funding for it is being stalled by the Transportation and Finance ministries. Olmert could easily cut through this problem, since speed-camera programs generate much more income, through fines and the benefits of reduced mortality and injuries to the economy, than they cost. The Treasury should be eager to finance such a program on budgetary grounds alone.
Politically, speed cameras would be a mixed bag, since some people resent having speed limits and other traffic laws better enforced. This problem could be mitigated by using the funds raised through fines to finance tax reductions on gasoline or other items.