Doing Nothing Beats Doing Wrong

“Doing Nothing is Always Superior to Doing Something Wrong”

– David Dilworth, March 2011

You probably can NOT guess who is my favorite President since I’ve been of voting age, or why.

You’re right, “favorite” is way too strong. Lets just say the “least disappointing” President.

Its Gerald Ford, but the “Why” may be more interesting.

OK, Quick – what is Gerald Ford known for?

Pardoning Nixon. Yes, that was a giant mistake. It tells the world how American politics lets the powerful get away with murder, sometimes literally. It shows Nixon was disgustingly right when he said “When the President does it, that means it is not illegal.

And Ford tripping over his own feet (likely way blown out of proportion). But how about substance? What was Ford’s administration known for?

I appreciate Ford not because of something he did – but for what he didn’t do.

Ford didn’t do a bunch of goofy things.

Can you name another President who resisted the temptation to do a bunch of dumb or harmful things ? You know the idea “Boys with Toys.”

In my experience a genuine 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. That’s wisdom or restraint. It was probably due in large part to his years in Congress.

And that, I submit, was his genius.

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.”

That’s pretty good.
But then kind of tripped on his own logic and mostly nullified it with “Here, the people rule.”

It takes an unimaginably steely self control to do nothing when you are in control of the world’s most powerful military and Billions upon Billions of dollars to spend on tools and resources (not to mention a secret Black Budget).

Particularly when everyone around you is pressing you hard to DO stuff every day, like boys with a new pop gun – “we’ve got to try it out – just to see if it works.

Every other recent President has proven unable to resist this lucrative attraction. (Ford did lead a disgraceful campaign while early in his  Congressional career — trying to impeach the stellar 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 maxim that — doing anything is better than doing nothing. Apparently they feel that the voters equate non-action with ineffective governance. “Just DO something.” Or maybe they just can’t resist the temptation to use that tremendous power that has been put in their hands.

In reflecting back on a quarter century of intensely watching government decisions, it is my experience that government decision makers often make trivial decisions well, but that when faced with big decisions they normally make the worst decision possible.

This leads us to a key problem called “Staffocracy” where bureaucrats believe they have all authority to run government and strongly manipulate elected officials’ official actions. However, we’ll cover that in another article.

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 Monterey Peninsula example: Until the 1990s, whenever traffic congestion made commuters mad, California government typically responded by building more freeways and widening roads.

This directly contradicts all traffic studies that show 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 vividly spoofed with :

Increasing Freeways to Reduce Congestion is the same as Fighting Obesity by Loosening my Belt.

In 1952 the state decided to build a giant 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 disgraced local Supervisor who joined the battle fighting for that $100 million Carmel 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. And Karin Strasser-Kaufman left office soon after — directly related to being on the wrong side of that freeway battle.

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 !

Why does this horribly ugly change happen to most people when they take office? To put it diplomatically – Elected officials seem to systematically “forget” they can vote against a project. Most just totally fail to understand why a topic would show up on their official agendas – if they were prohibited from voting against it.

For example: Monterey County Supervisors have a nearly “perfect” hideous 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 law is against them and the public opposes them – yet they do it anyway !

Why do elected officials fight to do such harmful things ?

A cynic might respond “In Bribes We Trust.” I prefer to believe the key to debunking the false idea “non-action the same as ineffective governance” is public education so the public genuinely understands the problem and the proposals. The media are supposed to help with that, but typically do a poor job.

When the public understands why doing a specific project will not work, or would be terribly expensive – the public strongly supports non-action.

When the public understands that there are not any possible ways to make a bad situation better — I believe they do and will support the Gerald Ford model

Doing Nothing can mean Doing Good.

I was surprised to realize that Ford is the only President not elected by the Voters. He was chosen overwhelmingly by his congressional colleagues – from both parties.

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