Wednesday, March 29, 2006

One Foot in the Past

I'll take no credit for today's posting, except perhaps for being able to listen and discern, but the last 24 hours have generated much reflection on the state of public affairs in our domain.

I was privileged to spend some time in the company of a public official yesterday, and we were able to exchange a few impressions. It drove home for me the degree to which personal loyalty drives the politics of this city and county, but it likewise opened my eyes to a few truths.

One must give respect to the politicians in this town for being realists. Despite disagreements among and between various officeholders, the incumbents recognize that even their misguided colleagues share the same legitimacy - they each were elected. An officeholder may believe wholeheartedly that voters were wrong in electing someone, but they do not question the legitimacy of that election.

Further, officeholders recognize that, at least for a time (and that time can be long, indeed), they must work with their colleagues in order to accomplish anything. That does not mean that disagreements will not arise. They do, and often. But during a term, the playing field is what it is, and the effective public official will try to find accommodation with those who oppose them.

Likewise, the cleverest among them will quickly discard party loyalty and reach across the aisle in order to gain an advantage to further their own agenda, whether that be to progress the public weal, or to hold it back.

Traditionally, each officeholder builds a base constituency and then relies on the fact that few members of the public will take the time to get to know them, their policies, and their actions. With a sufficiently influential cadre of supporters willing to endorse them on the basis of personal loyalty, an officeholder can be essentially immune from true public scrutiny. The dynamics of party add to this tendency toward unaccountability, as the imprimature of "D" or "R" carries its own weight.

I pride myself on being inquisitive and universal in my approach to understanding politics and politicians. Simply because politician "A," whom I admire, has a conflict with politician "B," does not mean that I cannot also admire, or work with both.

But one of the weakness of the polity here is that no evaluation of a politician or a political actor, or even an involved citizen, is ever divorced from factionalism. Let me choose an innocuous example to illustrate.

I count among my friends several leading Democrats (I have fewer Republican acquaintances, but then the bulk of my time is spent at my store, and so I have had fewer occasions to meet them). Former county party chairman Warren Nash has never been anything but helpful to me in helping me to understand local politics. His successor, Randy Stumler, has been an inspiration to me. Some have tried to portray that succession as a coup, an overthrow of the regime, which is true only in its end result. Yes, the Stumler era is and will continue to be of a different nature than the time when Nash was at the party helm. If that portrayal had become fixed, would Nash loyalists have become Stumler opponents?

Sadly, in my judgment, that would be true more often than not. Fortunately, no such rift exists. But it is a weakness that so many people make their evaluations based on such trivial matters as whether their "favorite" has been opposed (on an issue, or in an election) by another.

It is the duty of the citizen to measure candidates in their entirety. Is it evident that a candidate is prepared and knowledgeable? Does the candidate advocate in the public interest or for narrow, parochial interests? Has a candidate made a positive contribution to debate, policy, or administration?

Only by such analysis can a voter be said to be truly informed. As primary election day approaches on May 2, I urge readers to set aside preconceived notions of factionalism and educate themselves as to the stands and records of each candidate for public office. Don't vote based on religious affiliation, family connection, or any other irrational basis. Don't give your vote away cheaply.


I spent some time recently with a wise person who cleared a few things up for me and stimulated a few thoughts about allegiance to the past in the face of the challenges of the future. These discussions yielded a prescription for good public service.

This person diagnosed a weakness in the Democratic Party that ought to be addressed. Like any illness, it must either be treated or it will become a part of daily existence.

Like any parties made up of human beings, both major parties suffer their share of fools and embarrassments. For the Democrats, the continuing presence of the "Gang of Four" is an embarrassment. For the most part, this group no longer (if it ever did) adheres to any of the core beliefs of the Democratic Party. They are an infection on the body of the party and this cannot go untreated any longer without corrupting the entire body. Like a suppurating sore, it has become prominently visible and eminently embarrassing.

The initial round of treatment should consist of aggressive action to alter their behavior. Party elders must take up this challenge. But if that proves ineffective, surgery to excise this debilitating boil on the public face of the party is the next step. The party must declare that the behavior of the Gang will not be tolerated, and that such officeholders are unwelcome to serve under the Democratic banner.

Corruption can no longer be winked at. Let the corrupt find themselves another platform from which to launch their attacks on the public good.


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