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Thursday, April 17, 2014

What’s happening at election-time?

            I’m naïve, having never worked a phone bank, canvassed door-to-door or wheedled the imprimatur of an interest group.

            On the surface, an election appears as grubbing for office, with voters as background medium. And then office is the grind or game of legislation or executive administration.

            Is it too idealistic to think of an election as a space set aside for engagement with citizenry? As a time when the would-be officeholder is most open to citizens’ opinions and feedback? As a venue in which the candidate tries to win the voters not only to him/herself personally, but also to a way of understanding the issues and an approach to resolving them? The candidate explores the issues and possible solutions with the citizens, sharing his/her policy expertise and political skill and judgment, and modeling his/her future practice once elected. This is a win-win-win, for the candidates, the citizens and the issues.

            Is it too idealistic to hope that we’re selecting not just a grinder of decisions in a circumscribed realm, but a politician on a broader canvas orchestrating better community?

            It’s early in this campaign, so not everything that should be discussed has been yet, and I may be naively alarmist.

            The issue of the widening achievement gap among our schools, with corresponding stratification of our students by race, ethnicity and socio-economic status and bifurcation of our County into more starkly-defined geographies, should be discussed. The OLO report indicates a sharp turn for the worse in a condition to which we’ve become accustomed over the past four to six decades (the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, and the end of MCPS de jure segregation, being May 17).

            In early returns, our candidates and citizens are whistling blithely past the chasm. Doug Duncan mentioned it in public; Phil Andrews mentioned it in private; George Leventhal mentioned it on twitter. Otherwise—invisible.

            The gap issue won’t be comfortable to resolve: the real questions being how much effort is enough? And how much inequity is too much? (A red zone 50% as good as the green zone is too much inequity.) But it’s appalling to contemplate a continuing trajectory of social divergence, and it’s embarrassing to hear continuing lip service and temporizing, and to watch posturing and preening passing for executive administration.

            Now, maybe if I weren’t so naïve I’d see that stealth on this issue is the best way to get the best politician into office, and in a position to get down to real work. But what a implausible Rube Goldberg mechanism! I think that a political leader leads even before installation—now, during election time. And the citizens respond. A resolve is fixed--a way forward begun to be charted.   


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