Vote The Marx Brothers Out Of Miamis Political Arena
Written by Michael Lewis on June 16, 2011
By Michael Lewis
A Great Depression tune from 1932 has become the theme of Miami’s political depression today.
Not "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" That plaintive song fits campaign fundraising but not pervasive political negativity.
Our theme comes from the Marx Brothers film "Horsefeathers." Groucho’s lyrics mirror our voters’ behavior:
"I don’t know what they have to say, it makes no difference anyway — Whatever it is, I’m against it! No matter what it is or who commenced it, I’m against it. Your proposition may be good, but let’s have one thing understood — Whatever it is, I’m against it! And even when you’ve changed it or condensed it, I’m against it."
With 12 days to go before a mayoral election, the mood is not apathy but negativity. It’s not who is a better choice but who did, or will do, worse things.
That has little to do with the candidates and more to do with us than them — and that we even view our government as Us versus Them.
The economic decline fueled those flames. So did a string of reasons to mistrust local politicians. It doesn’t help that many are valid — no need to recite the list.
Unfortunately, negativity breeds negative outcomes, and the cycle continues.
How negative are we? Well, 14,435 more of us turned out March 15 to cast an 88% vote to recall an honest mayor than voted May 24 in a ballot that included both 11 new candidates for mayor and six county charter reforms that could have cured some reasons we mistrust officials.
In fact, only 16% of eligible residents voted in what could have been a transformative election — and incredibly they voted down all six reforms because they didn’t trust anything the county would put on the ballot, even if it was a gain. The commission proposed it, and voters echoed Groucho: "Whatever it is, I’m against it!"
So-called reformers fanned the flames, urging us to reject upgrades because commissioners were self-serving in trying to improve the county. That builds the attitude of Just Vote No to anything. How much more negative can we get?
Because voters spurned reforms, commissioners can now say with some reason that the public doesn’t want reforms so they won’t make them easy to get. Why wonder that our officeholders perform as they do.
Granted, the election isn’t history’s most exciting. Choices don’t enthrall us. But then, should we expect excitement when neither George Washington nor Abraham Lincoln is on the ballot?
If we’re lucky, candidates are just good citizens trying to do the job we elect them to do. Darn few Washingtons and Lincolns and Roosevelts are running nowadays.
The only excitement has been who an ex-hip-hop vocalist best known for sexual themes and failed obscenity charges decided to support. That’s how low we’ve sunk. Not the way your high school civics text painted representative democracy.
Sneering at government is more fun than taking part but hardly productive. So, how do we break the cycle?
First, rather than being against everyone and everything, we must be for something, coalescing around common aims.
The Beacon Council’s One Community One Goal effort to find ways to build solid jobs for future growth is a good start. How many of us could oppose more people working for more money?
We could add to the list improved education to fill those jobs, better transportation to get to them and countywide vision by government to support them. Better choices might exist, but most of us could buy into this list.
With goals to achieve, not oppose, we could back candidates who could help, encourage work by present officials to meet those goals and join with them to turn Us-versus-Them into all of us, included officeholders, uniting for common aims.
An upheaval to convert antipathy to officials into cooperative efforts to achieve aims will require one more shift: we’ll have to view officeholders not as devils or demigods but as neighbors who chose public service for a few years. If we don’t look at their work as service, neither will they — the consequence of which we already know too well.
Break that cycle or we’ll forever live political Groundhog Day, repeating disasters over and over.
A vital step to break the cycle is to vote for mayor without holding your nose. As to your objection that the best possible candidate didn’t run, it’s absolutely true: You didn’t run. You wouldn’t.
But two men did. Pick the better now, then get Washington or Lincoln on the ballot next time, or run yourself. The fact that none of the three of you is there now is no excuse to skip voting.
The final step in breaking the Us-versus-Them cycle is to stop, right now, threatening recalls. Whoever we elect — barring heinous crime or health issues — should serve out the term. "Do what we say or we’ll recall you" is not democracy. It’s demagoguery.
It’s time to get the Marx Brothers out of county hall.