No Knowledge Required

I was driving to the gym this morning behind an obnoxiously huge SUV sporting a bumper sticker that said “Greg Ballard. Leadership in Action.”

Now, I realize there’s a campaign underway, and that political operatives produce these slogans. I’ve run for office, so I also know that candidates are very tempted to believe their own hype. But all I could think of after reading that bumper sticker was how carelessly we throw words around and how little we value knowledge and expertise.

My personal evaluation of Greg Ballard’s term in office is that he has been anything but a leader, at least as I would define that term. But what’s worse, he has exemplified the widespread belief that you really don’t have to know anything in order to be a public official–a Mayor or Governor or Senator. (Sarah Palin considers it an absolute virtue to be clueless–she ran for Vice President sneering at “elitists” who went to “fancy schools” and I don’t remember anyone calling her out on that particular charge.)

I teach public administration, so I’m pretty touchy about the notion that anyone who’s run a business or led a marine division can run a city. We don’t choose doctors who didn’t bother with medical school, or lawyers who failed the bar exam. We don’t let people drive until they can demonstrate they know how to operate a vehicle. But we make it a political virtue not to understand the differences between public and private finance, be familiar with the tools needed for economic development, or aware of best and worst practices in areas like zoning and transit and public safety.

Greg Ballard is what happens when we elect someone Mayor just because he seems like a pleasant fellow, and showed “leadership” by being a Marine.


What’s the Opposite of Pandering?

As readers of my posts and columns know, I’m no fan of political pandering.

On the other hand, Mayor Ballard’s speech to the Lambda dinner last night wasn’t even the opposite of pandering. The opposite would be some sort of “Sister Soulja” moment–a stern rebuke to someone who is generally a supporter when that person or organization steps out of line.

Ballard managed to avoid both kissing up to the crowd and telling them something they needed to hear. Instead, he delivered a speech that would have been far more appropriate at a Chamber of Commerce event. While he did say “Lambda Legal”–once–he didn’t use the words “gay” or “lesbian” at all.  He didn’t talk about equality, didn’t refer to anything his administration had done or planned to do about issues the gay community finds important (or even arguably relevant). He droned on about taxes and public safety to a crowd that skews liberal on taxes and has reason to be skeptical about the use of police power.

He did include one throwaway line about understanding the importance of the arts, even though he cut arts funding drastically, so perhaps he was dimly aware that an audience of gay and gay-friendly people would have more than its share of arts supporters. Otherwise, he gave a speech that was so far from pandering, it was entirely unconnected to the concerns of his audience. Not only was it irrelevant, it wasn’t even a good speech.

The word that comes to mind is clueless.