In Defense Of Confrontation – And Democracy

Commentary

I got busy last week, so this is a little dated now. But I want to take a moment to revisit Politics-in-the-Park-gate. You may remember, that’s when the crack triumvirate of Tom Palmer, Bob Gernert, and shadowy counterterroism forces within the city of Lakeland’s security apparatus conjured, denounced, and successfully intervened with their imaginations to halt the mortal threat to Charlie Crist’s comfort posed by a blog post I spent 15 minutes writing the night before. A bunch of Jack Bauers, they are.

Background here. There clearly was no plan – other than my meek exhortation – to confront the governor with CSX questions or chanting. (Though I’m told Crist’s FDLE security detail was made aware of the threat and presumably briefed the governor on it. So thanks for that, Tom, Bob, and whoever else. The more the People’s governor associates CSX with controversy and political intensity, the happier I’ll be. The People’s governor is not known for his political bravery. Ask Orlando.)

But what if there was a plan? What if some portion of P in P goers had chanted CSX so that Charlie could hear them or shouted questions since he wasn’t taking them in person, from what I understand. (I wasn’t there when he spoke.)

Over on his Winter Haven Chamber blog, Bob Gernert said such a thing would amount to an “ambush” of the governor. And that would be bad form, I guess.

But wait just a second. Who pays the People’s Governor’s salary? I thought he worked for us. This was an explicitly political rally, wasn’t it? Crist was there, explicitly, to ask us to vote for John McCain. Does this transaction only flow in one direction? We can’t ask him something in return? That’s an ambush? It might hurt his feelings, and that might…..? Whaaaaaa?

Look, I understand that those of you in David Greene-world have grown accustomed to thinking of your local government and business officials as kings and regents. If that’s working for you, fine. I don’t have to live there. But for many of us outside that world, politics in a representative democracy remains the non-violent interaction of divergent interests, with the power to resolve disagreements vested in the people. The bedrock, the absolute prerequisite of representative democracy, is the ability to confront your leaders non-violently. I can’t believe I have to write this.

What’s funny is that Bob even seems to acknowledge the importance of this concept, while simultaneously denouncing it.

He notes the “measurable tension” with “our neighbors to the west.” (I’m not sure which tool he used to measure it, but…) And then goes on to trumpet “One Polk,” a sort of protean countwide-unity-of-our-betters organization designed to meet, apparently.

But here’s the key phrase of Gernert’s post:

The point here is that much good has come from confrontation. Calmer heads have prevailed and reasoned thought has emerged to find solutions and build consensus.

Three quick thoughts:

1) I would suggest that a lot of “reasoned thought” and solution seeking went into the conditions required by the Central Florida Regional Planning Council, which Winter Haven officials promptly watered down, as everyone predicted. Not doing that would have been a good way to “build consensus”. But ces’t la vie.

2) If Bob Gernert and Winter Haven’s business and government elite had had their way, there would have been no confrontation and thus no supposed good. Remember, they were dragged kicking and screaming into the development of regional impact review that they promptly ignored.

3) Show me a single concrete action taken by the state, CSX, or the city of Winter Haven demonstrating helpful consensus on this matter, and I’ll be happy to publicize it. And no, a state study which will show we can’t reroute freight traffic away from Lakeland because CSX won’t do it and there’s not enough money does not count.

But on Bob’s larger point, I do agree.

Much good comes from vigorous, good-faith confrontation. In fact, democracy does not function without it. In this CSX case, confrontation made the problems of the deal plain. If any mitigation emerges, it won’t be because of Bob Gernert and those who sought consensus and warm snuggles with altruistic CSX and continue to dismiss opponents as wacky. It will come because citizens, those lowly non-elected, non-powerful irritants in whom our forefathers vested power, decided to confront their leaders. And made them blink. For at least a few months.

And consider this question: Does anyone really think the problems of the last few years in this country stem from too much confrontation with our supposed national business and civic leaders? Are we paying to recapitalize banks and fund ongoing foreign occupations because we lowly citizens were too impolite?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Cathalain Carter

2 thoughts on “In Defense Of Confrontation – And Democracy

  1. I am amused, entertained, and in general better off for having read Billy’s posting on the Politics in the Park pseudo-fiasco. As a resident of Winter Haven who is accustomed to this cities standard “we don’t care what you think” method of governance, I get a great deal of satisfaction from any well made point that cheers on the value of the people, while poking holes in the pomposity of the big boys downtown.

    Keep it up, Billy. We’re all better off for your insightful take on the situation as it unfolds.

  2. I am amused, entertained, and in general better off for having read Billy’s posting on the Politics in the Park pseudo-fiasco. As a resident of Winter Haven who is accustomed to this cities standard “we don’t care what you think” method of governance, I get a great deal of satisfaction from any well made point that cheers on the value of the people, while poking holes in the pomposity of the big boys downtown.

    Keep it up, Billy. We’re all better off for your insightful take on the situation as it unfolds.

Comments are closed.