The Greek philosopher Socrates was said to have proclaimed, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
With a general election upon us, voters could usefully remember the unexamined political claim may not be worth much, either.
One of the most-often heard and least-widely examined claims is the perennial, “City government should be run like a business.”
The person uttering this is most often — happily for them — a present or past businessman, the implication being they are uniquely suited to fill the top job. But should city government really be run like a business, with all of us being thought of as customers?
Ask yourself this: Are the rights of a customer stronger than state and federal constitutional protections of a citizen? Who is more likely to achieve a goal through cooperation with other parties, the CEO of a privately held company used to making unilateral decisions or someone in public service who has to work with other constituents’ representatives to get things done?
Can someone truthfully claim that managing the sale of a small range of goods or services is tantamount to keeping our parks and beaches clean, our streets policed, our homes protected from fire, our trash collected, our water flowing from taps, restaurants inspected, courts in order and streets maintained?
While a business, by necessity, must focus on a few things done right to thrive, most residents have the expectation that city government will do many, many diverse things well.
When it doesn’t, objections are soon to follow. If our government had been fashioned by the Founders under a business model, they would have enshrined a mercantile system, not the constitutional republic they gave us.
The individual needed to run city government effectively is not a hard-charging solo star but someone who understands that real leadership and cooperation with others are not incompatible traits. In fact, they’re indispensable if anything of substance is to be achieved and true public service rendered.
We as voters should carefully discriminate between a candidate who provides realistic and detailed proposals for the challenges we face and those who employ the same tired catchphrases and empty rhetoric that has been trotted out for years.
While the happy words provide a brief feeling of well-being, we soon understand we are no closer to solving a problem than before. Sometimes, it requires facing up to unpleasant realities to take the first steps toward improving our condition.
Glossing over problems is not the answer. As Ayn Rand cautioned, “You can ignore reality, but you cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.”
Finally, while we’re on the lookout for these sorts of political empty calories, we might want to keep alert for the candidate with all the answers, the one who knows exactly what needs to be done and how to skillfully guide us for the next few years.
After all, it was the same Socrates who said, “Wisdom is knowing how little we know.”