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Politics as Usual: Politics is supposed to be the art of the possible

September 7, 2011

So besides an earthquake and a hurricane, not all that much happened last week.
The earthquake only tickled us gently; it was more of a curiosity than a disaster in these parts.
I can’t say anything about Hurricane Irene because she hadn’t arrived as of this writing (We had to put the newspaper out early so we can make sure it gets to you in the optimistic expectation that you will have lights to read it by).
Let’s hope everyone weathered the storm safe and dry. Meanwhile, politics marches on.
For the longest time the competition for ‘Who Is the Biggest Bogeyman in Rhode Island?’ was neck-and-neck between illegal aliens and public sector unions. Now, the unions have pulled out into the lead.
I googled the phrase “Much Ado About Nothing” and the first five hits it returned were links to stories about that courthouse confrontation between Woonsocket Rep. Jon Brien and NEA-RI Secretary Lou Rainone. OK, not really, but you get my point.
The Brien vs. Rainone faceoff was an undercard match to the already blown out of proportion story about NEA-RI Assistant Director John Leidecker’s trial for allegedly cyberstalking former state Rep. Douglas Gablinske.
What Leidecker did to Gablinske — phonying-up e-mails to voters during last year’s election campaign using Gablinske’s misspelled name (he called him Gablinski), claiming the legislator supported unpopular positions, such as tolls on the Mount Hope Bridge (not big in Bristol, one of the towns in Gablinske’s district) – belongs in the long and dishonorable political tradition of “dirty tricks.”
Politics ain’t beanbag, but dirty tricks do not usually wind up in courts of law. It’s usually an “I’ll get you back next time” sort of thing. But they are called dirty tricks for a reason, so sometimes people call the cops.
Anyway, while you have one union official at the defense table in District Court for messing with a legislator, another one is in the corridor punching his fist into the palm of his hand to menace another legislator.
What were those guys thinking? Are they trying to make unions look bad? Are they intentionally perpetuating the stereotype to make the reactionaries who squawk about “union thuggery” look like they have a point? Those guys are schoolteachers, for Pete’s sake, not stevedores. They aren’t dumb muscle out of some community theater version of “On the Waterfront”. What were they trying to prove?
And they did it in front of a reporter holding a tape recorder!
Anti-union groups have called for them to be punished for thuggery. If nothing else, they should be sanctioned for stupidity.
The world would know nothing about this if WPRO blogger Bob Plain wasn’t at the right place at the right time with the aforementioned recorder in his hand. He got a nice spot news scoop that should have been a one-day story but has now been dragged out for weeks by the station’s talk host and by the government watchdog groups (who seem to have become union watchdog groups) who have latched onto this story like a dog with his favorite bone in his teeth, refusing to let it go, snarling and growling at whoever might take it away.
So there it was, recorded for posterity and broadcast across the state, Brien and Rainone conducting a colloquy of such high quality that it belonged on an elementary school recess yard. I wasn’t there but it seemed from hearing the give-and-take that, where it not for someone there saying something to the effect of “uh, the guy from WPRO is standing in the corner with a recorder,” that Brien and Rainone might have thrown down. There is precedent for such a thing, remember when then-state Rep. Tim Williamson allegedly got into a beef a few years ago at Patrick’s Pub while the Statehouse was evacuated for a bomb scare?
As I said just last week, these are not good times to be a union in Rhode Island and antics like this by ranking union officials only hurt their cause further.
Anti-union folks have already tried to leverage this incident for political gain, demanding that the NEA-RI’s Bob Walsh get yanked from General Treasurer Gina Raimondo’s pension reform committee. Nobody is going to look at Bob Walsh and think “thug”, but that is what the anti-union activists are trying to sell. At least Raimondo isn’t buying it.
This whole “stop union thuggery” stuff being pushed by RISC and many of the rapidly splintering factions of the Tea Party hereabouts, and the pushback from progressives, are indicative of the polarized nature of our political debate.
We seemed to have stopped thinking and reasoning critically and are simply cementing out positions in our own smug self-assurance. We have stopped listening to each other and have started simply shouting past each other
We are absolutely impervious to an argument from a point of view other than our own, no matter how carefully reasoned or well argued. And we will unquestioningly eat up any bullcrap our own side spews, no matter how ludicrous and will repeat it to anyone who will listen.
Politics is supposed to be the art of the possible, where reasoned intellectual argument and compromise are the paths to solving problems, not senseless screaming matches and elevator punchouts.
Our political leaders – Democrat and Republicans, at the national and state levels – have to stop acting like Bloods and Crips in ties and jackets. Grass roots citizens – Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives – have to stop acting like people with differing political views are mortal enemies. Someone who has a different political view than you may be wrong, but it doesn’t make them evil.
If we are to remain a self-governing small-d democracy, we have to start talking to each other again instead of yelling at and demonizing one another.
You would think that William Butler Yeats was commenting on our current political discourse when he wrote:
“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself, Bill

Jim Baron covers politics and the statehouse in Rhode Island for the Rhode Island Media Group. He can be reached at

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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