Is There a Conservative Way to Plow Snow?
I want to address some thoughts that lately have been bubbling below the surface of my consideration of the challengers running for city council. Please allow me to ruminate a bit on human nature and I’ll come to the point shortly.
There is always a difference between the world we want to perceive and the world as it actually is. The most successful people in life are the ones whose perception of the world is closely tied to objective reality and who have the ability to work within its parameters to achieve a positive goal.
What I’m seeing so far in the challengers is a group of candidates that collectively refuse to acknowledge reality on several different levels. Some are choosing to ignore a sea change in world wide public opinion with regard to LGBT rights. Some are choosing to misunderstand the role of local government and the import of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States vis-a-vis “Smart Meters.” Some are badly misreading the public’s willingness to accept bigotry and close mindedness in a public official. So far, out of the group of challengers to the incumbents, I do not see a candidate who would actually serve us well if elected.
That is not the same thing as saying these folks won’t be elected; it is, however, my assessment of how likely they would be to succeed as politicians once they found themselves in the role.
Their nominal leader, Mr. Paul Smith, was a textbook example of a failed politician: someone who managed to be elected to office, but who did not manage to meaningfully enact the changes he sought to make. Mr. Smith frequently found himself on the losing end of 6/1 council decisions because he did not succeed in persuading anyone that his ideas were superior on their own merits. Instead of making persuasive arguments that resonated with his fellow council members and a majority of the electorate, he chose to make enemies and employ verbal bombast as a means of achieving his political goals. Unsurprisingly, he failed spectacularly. Instead of focusing the blame on his own ineptitude in getting things done, he chose to brand his fellow council members with the worst label he could think of: “liberal”. He hoped this would serve as sufficient explanation to his small cohort of supporters as to why he let them down.
Part of this was due to his misperception of City Council as being a partisan body. Mr. Smith saw the council as being predominantly “liberal” in its makeup; a charge he repeated many times, most prominently in the immediate run-up to his loss in his bid for re-election. The concept of council partisanship, in my opinion, is an important thing that needs to be addressed.
It has been said there are no “Conservative” ways to plow snow. No “Liberal” ways to collect trash. While there are certainly different philosophies on how such services should be paid for and the workers who accomplish them are employed, at the end of the day the city still uses snow plows and garbage trucks, and somebody with a pair of work gloves on has to make things happen. I’ve met a lot of city workers in my brief time of involvement with city politics. There are Democrat cops and Republican ones; liberal fire fighters and conservative ones. The men and women we are privileged to have working for us are not uniformly of one stripe or another. Many are independently minded thinkers such as myself.
City Councils do not exist to trade in top-down political philosophies conveniently branded as Conservative or Liberal (or Libertarian, for that matter.). City Councils exist to make sure the roads are cleared and the garbage doesn’t stack up. City Councils endeavor to make sure the government remains solvent while doing so, and they typically employ a very pragmatic approach in their financial oversight that bears little direct relationship to the predominant political ideas of the day. Yes, some cities opt for a volunteer Fire Department while others employ their fire fighters full time, but at the end of the day, the Council is responsible for producing results regardless of the labor arrangement, and the best ones tend to be fairly politically agnostic about how they do so.
Mr. Smith, and some others like him, want to exchange the city government we have that is focused on delivering the goods — plowed roads and trash-free residential areas — for a city government that is focused on the philosophy of how those goods should be paid for and which political parties (and their adherents) will be rewarded with the tax revenue. They want to change the city from a place that enjoys the equal rule of law to a place where you have to be of the “correct” religion and “correct” sexual orientation in order to be a first class citizen. They propose broad, sweeping changes in order to achieve their goals: removing the current city manager and most of the administration, decimating the public safety departments, and marginalizing those residents who do not fit into their vision of what a proper American should look like.
I do not support such changes. Now, mind you, I reserve the right to complain, and do so vociferously, when the city is about to make a bad move by spending too much on something or expanding outside of what I see as the purview of local government. The current administration has made some mistakes in this regard, and I have not been, nor will I be, hesitant to be critical when these things come up. It has been awhile since I’ve felt the need to do this, but I am sure I will get another chance. Overreaching is part of the nature of all human institutions, and our city government is no exception.
But slashing the government and destroying the services we all enjoy in exchange for some version of political correctness goes beyond being merely foolish. It would have a direct, measurable, negative impact on our quality of life, not to mention our property values. The ripple effects would be enormous, devastating, and long-lasting.
Those who would serve us need to remind themselves what the true purpose of city government is and isn’t. They need to convince us that they would be good stewards of the public trust in getting the streets swept and keeping police and fire response times low. If they cannot make that their main focus, they don’t deserve to be elected.
I challenge those who want city government to focus more on political ideas than on cleaning sanitary sewers to first start out by publicly documenting thoroughly what changes they would like to see made with a full explanation of how those changes would benefit us all. I have made overtures to the challengers to come and tell me their ideas with the promise that I would present them here unaltered, but so far I have been rebuffed. One candidate has simply cut off public comment on her Facebook page because, I fear, she is incapable of addressing the questions people were starting to ask of her. I find this very telling and quite ominous.
One final note: I consider myself to be a Conservative. I am not a rabid culture warrior, nor am I a pushover for the utterings of people like Ann Coulter. My conservatism is based on respect for the U.S. Constitution as the supreme law of the land, civil liberties, low government involvement in the daily lives of citizens, reasonable taxation, and the rule of law. I think most people who have come into contact with me would tell you that I enjoy listening to the ideas of both the left and the right, and debating them fairly and equally on their merits. The reason why I say this is because I think there has been considerable distortion locally as to what true Conservatism really looks like. It doesn’t look like Paul Smith.