Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Small People; Local Politics

(News-Herald, February 2005) The old conservative-liberal division no longer makes sense; too few conservatives or liberals understand what their respective labels actually mean, though they’re certainly divided over something. There seem to be no politicians who believe in a pluralistic society; all our parties agree that the role of government is to force people to do the right thing, and everyone has a narrow view of what the right thing is.
Small town local politics are generally free of such ideologues. Instead, we get politics infected by the Small People. Sometimes the Small People are in power, and sometimes they’re hectoring elected officials from the sidelines. But the Small People always have certain tell-tale characteristics.
Small People have tiny vision, cramped and selfish spirits. They see themselves in battle against most of the rest of the world, a world populated by Those People.
The Small People have contempt for those beneath them socially or economically—Those People who live in the Arbors or line up at Community Services. The Small People believe that money = virtue, so people who don’t have money obviously lack virtue. Handouts are bad for them. (But Small People know their family and friends are virtuous, and anyway, what point is being in office if it doesn’t help you get your way?)
The Small People resent those beneath them. They resent it when Those People act as if they’re entitled to the same money or respect or shot at political post and advantage that the Small People have. How dare Those People act as if they have a right to hold an elected office without the Proper Connections.
Small People also resent the people above them. Someone smarter or more eloquent than they are makes them feel their smallness. People who have power over them enrage them. Small People can turn vicious in a power struggle, and bitter after losing. What right do Those People have to take control of this board/committee/group?
It’s impossible to move the Small People with an eloquent statement or well-reasoned argument, because they refuse to see anything larger than their own cramped aspirations or petty concerns. Every disagreement is personal; it never occurs to Small People that their opponents might have a legitimate point. Their response, whether to your face or whispered out of the corner of their mouth, will be cutting or condescending or cruel, to bring you down to size and to reassure themselves that there is no one in the world better than the Small People.
They refuse to imagine anything bigger than themselves, and assume everyone operates from the same selfish motives. A truth that disagrees with their own tiny view must be a lie. A person who makes a kind or wise gesture must be faking it to manipulate events for his own benefit.
Even their friends and allies are not immune to their withering sniping, because friends and allies must stay smaller than the Small People. Foolishly materialistic people may want to keep up with the Joneses, but Small People want to force the Joneses to stay down with them.
The Small People aren’t found just in elected office—church, volunteer group, school politics all attract Small People. Small People never see these positions as a way to serve or give back to the community. To them, politics is an avenue for putting Those People in their place (and making the Small People feel less small.) Sometimes they retreat from office because they sense that it will just highlight how Small they really are. Sometimes if they don’t get their way, they take their ball and go home to sulk.
We sometimes elect Small People because we think their definition of Those People matches our own. But we love some local politicians precisely because they are anything but Small. Guy Mammolite was an easy mayor to make jokes about for everything from his pageants and awards to his creative mangling of the language. But Guy was not a Small Person; he saw himself and his city and the people in it as part of something bigger, and he was always looking for ways to make it bigger still.
We’ve often been fortunate that way in Venangoland, though it irks the Small People to hear a Mammolite type praised. Whether in office or in the peanut gallery, Small People are the great bane of local politics, because they want to hold us all down to fit in their tiny, ever-shrinking world.

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