- David Dilworth, March 2011
You’ll probably not guess who is my favorite President (since I’ve reached voting age) or why.
Its Gerald Ford, but the “Why” may be more interesting.
Quick – what is Gerald Ford known for?
Pardoning Nixon (yes, that was a mistake) and tripping over his own feet (way blown out of proportion because he gave the media so little else to report on).
Ford, often singled out as open and honest, laudably said “Our constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men.” then tripped on his own logic with “Here, the people rule.”
I appreciate Ford not because of something he did – its what he didn’t do. Ford didn’t do a bunch of goofy things. All other presidents couldn’t resist the temptation to do a bunch of dumb or harmful things.
To me an expert is someone who can do a task with the least amount of effort. Gerald Ford did that; and did it well. An Eagle Scout, Ford just didn’t do much – of anything. And that, I submit, was his genius.
It was probably due in large part to his years in Congress. (That wasn’t intended to be funny)
It takes an unimaginably steely self control to do nothing when you are in control of the world’s most powerful military and billions of dollars to spend on tools and resources (not to mention a secret Black Budget). Particularly when everyone around you is itching to DO stuff, like boys with a new gun – “we’ve got to try it out.”
Every other recent President has proven unable to resist this lucrative attraction. (Ford did lead one awful campaign in Congress — trying to impeach Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.)
Of the many, many hundreds (probably thousands) of elected officials I’ve seen act, most seem to follow the baseless and harmful maxim that — doing something is better than doing nothing. Apparently they feel that the voters equate non-action with ineffective.
In reflecting on some quarter century of watching and trying to influence government decisions, it is my experience that government decision makers make trivial decisions poorly, but that when faced with big decisions they normally make the worst decision possible.
Paraphrasing Winston Churchill “American [politicians] will always do the right thing . . . After they have exhausted every other (ineffective, expensive, problematic and harmful) possibility.”
Its true, electeds almost always make the worst possible decision (least effective, most expensive, most problematic) until the public gets mad enough and organizes to stop the worst of the decisions or files a lawsuit.
Here’s a local example: Until the 1990s, whenever traffic congestion made commuters mad, California government typically responded by building more freeways and widening roads.
That directly contradicted all traffic studies showing that building more freeways and widening roads increases congestion.
This is obvious to common sense. If the “build more freeways” idea worked, Los Angeles’ 20+ lane wide freeways would be a shining model of traffic excellence. Instead LA freeways are loathed by everyone including traffic engineers.
This wrong, harmful, expensive and wasteful idea is spoofed with: “Increasing Freeways to Reduce Congestion is the same as Fighting Obesity by Loosening my Belt.”
In 1952 the state decided to put an ugly concrete freeway past lovely quiet Carmel-by-the-Sea. It was a mild tug of war fought to a standstill for some 30 years. Then Cal-Trans tried to force it on us in 1985. (Karin Strasser-Kaufman was our local Supervisor who ramped up the battle for that $100 million freeway.)
That galvanized the community to fight it in every (legal) way possible.
The short version is – a decade later we won. The Hatton-Canyon Freeway past Carmel is now dead.
Along the way I noticed something I call the “Political Gap.” It illustrates the dramatic gulf between elected officials and the public wishes. A local example is how the public votes down development every time it is on the ballot; and we always vote for environmental protection.
Yet almost every elected official affecting our Monterey Peninsula votes for every development they can.
Something ugly happens to most people when they take office. To put it diplomatically – they seem to systematically “forget” they can vote against a project. They just persistently fail to realize the concept “Why would a topic be on their agenda if they were prohibited from voting against it ?”
For example: Monterey County Supervisors have a nearly “perfect” awful record – they had not rejected a subdivision from 1985 to 2011. (The only exception was when they reluctantly voted 3-2 against a little subdivision in North County in 2010.)
Why is that? The science is against them, the public opposes them, and the law is against them.
Why do elected officials fight to do so many harmful things ?
The key to debunking the false idea “non-action the same as ineffective governance” is public education.
When the public understands why doing something would not work, or would be very expensive – the public supports non-action.
When the public understands that there just are not any ways to make a situation better; that doing anything just wastes their tax money — I believe they support the Gerald Ford model “Doing Nothing can mean Doing Good.”