The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. - Wm. Blake

Thursday, November 02, 2006

By the way, that was me

I meant to take credit (or blame) last week for this. Bob Somerby took a break from talking about the War on Gore to eulogize the late mayor of Pittsburgh. He (Somerby, not the dead Mayor) was at an event in town a couple weeks ago (with Will Durst - wish I could've made it) at which the Mayor's son spoke. Bob was touched:
To us as outsiders, it was obvious that Pittsburgh’s Democrats remember Mayor O’Connor with feeling. His son wasted few words in describing a man who had earned that warm regard.
I felt obliged to set him straight:
[excerpt from email]

The man you heard eulogized was a legend in his own time - in the sense that his public persona was a feel-good story bearing only limited relation to the facts. My wife is a city employee who dealt with O'Connor when he was in City Council and when he became mayor, so the following is based on a firsthand witness.

Bob was a wholly-owned corporate shill. In a city with a functioning two-party system, he never would have run as a Democrat. His funding came largely from developers (many from out of town) who wanted him to give them what they wanted. His first acts as mayor advanced their interests, booting out companies with existing projects in favor of those who had given him the cash to run for mayor 3 times.

He hired a City Planning Director whose most noteworthy accomplishment as Zoning Administrator, several years before, was meeting behind closed doors to "make deals" with zoning applicants. Bob's right hand man was a long-time friend with no qualifications for government, who was recently fired for using his position to help a cop friend avoid an official reprimand.

His status as a man beloved of the people derived entirely from a genial disposition, an ability to deliver pork, not progress, for his Council District, and the provinciality of a small city that viewed him as a favorite son.

I don't know if you'll appreciate this speaking ill of the dead, but I've been biting my tongue around here for a month, and to see this fairy tale passed on to the world at large, by a source I respect, is just too much. The lessons of Bob O'Connor are strikingly similar to those of George Bush - both of them strikingly unintelligent, both of them in favor of corporate interests over the public interest - to the point where one doubts that they even understand the latter term - and both of them hailed for being fun to have a beer with. And, of course, both of them popularly elected by people who would bristle at hearing the above assessment. How liberalism and good government can survive in such an environment is the great problem of our day.
And it's that last that I find critical. I don't think that what Somerby meant what he wrote "But then, it’s “average people” who decide the nation’s course when they go to the polls and vote. Their values and opinions must be addressed when progressives and liberals do politics." was what I took away. What I took away was, "How the hell can progressives and liberals win when the grass roots, when the populus, is taken in by corporate tools like Bob O'Connor?" But whether Somerby meant that or not, he's right that it's the essential problem of our time.

Even if this election is the sea change that it looks like it could be (ohplease ohplease ohplease), that's only Step One. And it doesn't do anything to undermine the natural advantages held by well-funded "nice guys" like O'Connor and Bush. Maybe Good Government liberals will always be at a disadvantage in that fight. But we need to acknowledge it, and deal with it.


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