Watching the Tea Party activists at work I worry about the future of our national government. Their tactics, much like the John Birchers of yesteryear, are based on an assumption that government is the enemy. Ironically, they seem to consider themselves to be patriotic even as they rail against the legitimacy of our democratically elected leaders. Much of their rhetoric is ad hominem, often focused on our black President but personal attacks on other elected and appointed officials are also fair game.
A favorite ploy of these teabaggers is a technique called “the big lie.” They make something up out of whole cloth, repeat it endlessly, until it works its way into public conversation as truth. Think Kenya, Muslim, Obamacare.
I hope we can be careful in our community conversations that we do not descend to the depths of political discussion now degrading our national government.
Recent commentaries suggest that many state and city governments are effectively resisting this dysfunctionality by working across party lines to reach common sense compromises to get things done.
Del Mar has a rich tradition of citizen involvement, often with very spirited debate, but when we are at our best the “Del Mar Way” finds community consensus that allows us to actually get things done. Think open space, lagoon restoration, beach encroachment, library, Garden project.
When we try to short circuit the consensus-reaching process we frustrate our ability to get things done. Think downtown redevelopment, pedestrianization, visitor fair share taxation, traffic calming.
Whether we achieve certain goals or not, there are some underlying principles of civic engagement that enable us to keep bound together as a community. One is that we respect the motives and hard work of citizen volunteers who occupy Council seats and appointees on other decision-making bodies. These folks are our neighbors, not some distant uncaring and unresponsive entity. This principle applies equally to the conscientious city staff who use their expertise and commitment to help us achieve community goals. Some criticism of current and recent Council members questions their legitimacy because they faced no campaign opposition when they ran for office. Instead of criticism we should express gratitude that they stepped up when others did not to do a job that is very demanding in this town.
Another important principle concerns facts and truths. It is easy to arouse emotions and fears if one decides to play fast and loose with facts, but the damage to our common bonds is long lasting. Honest, open debate on the merits of issues enlightens our decisions. Fact distortion, exaggerations, and personal attacks are the basic tools of demagoguery that cheapen our discussions and degrade our decisions.
Washington’s dysfunctionalities are powerful examples of what not to do. Ironically, Del Mar can learn from those examples what we do not want to become. This community has too much going for it to descend to that level.