Home > Crank, Editorial > Is all politics negative? I think not.

Is all politics negative? I think not.

A reflection on local politics

There is a lot of rhetoric thrown-around in meetings and committees that “politics needs to be removed from” this or that process or project. Recently,the City Commission mentioned it while discussing the 20-year infrastructure plan. I squirm every-time I hear it. Is politics that repulsive?

Why would you try to remove it? I question if it is even possible?

"What are you raising awareness of today?" via Indexed

Politics by definition is simply the process of diverse set of parties coming together to govern a system; it is inseparable from governance. You can’t remove politics, you can only try to tuck it into corners, block its open expression, and limit broad participation. Thus, excluding some perspectives and views from equal access to the process comes with consequences that express themselves in money, energy, levels of acceptance and knowledge by the general public. Note, at times, this is completely legit, as long as the process and reasoning is transparent and accepted.

More importantly, I’ve been in meetings where inquiries to clarify the decision-making process have shown a disheartening attitude amongst professional government employees. When I express frustration with the lack of clarity of roles, process, and decision-making, I’ve more often than not received a version of the indifferent reply, “that’s politics.” Complete with a shrug of shoulders and a unverbalized, “deal.”

Positive or negative politics is a choice

Again, I squirm. It is indeed politics, but that by nature isn’t a negative as oft implied. Bad politics, thus bad governance, is a negative and it is a choice. Politics is naturally neutral.  Am I wrong to assume that when the dismissive “that’s politics” comes out of someone’s mouth, that what we are really stating are our own inabilities? Failures? Our own handicaps arising out of ideology, protection of power, or flat-out deception? Or, are we simply telling someone to keep it to themselves?

I’m not applying this to any specific item or city project. I’m mostly reflecting on the past 3-4 years of my direct engagement with local government. I’ve been on transportation committees, steering committees, exploratory committees, I serve on the City’s parks and recreation commission, and I try, I really do, to approach each role with optimism and a respect for those at the table. It is hard to engage with an open mind when repeatedly met with a lack of communication, indifference, and an ideology of community that seems rooted in cynicism.

I’m exploring. Discovering. Developing. Still keeping the humor.**

What’s your theoretical experience/perspective on politics? 

* Graphic by Jessica Hagy at Indexed.

** More humor than fire, despite the headline.




The Pedestrian Ninjas need your help…thank you.



  1. February 24, 2012 at 11:32 am

    Not sure what was intended by “politics” as used in that context. At a certain level, everything is political in the sense of everything is normative. As in everything is a matter of personal choice; there’s no scientific way to determine what is the correct course of action for a city (or a person) to take.

    So perhaps what was meant by “politics” was in the sense of “we’ll consider this policy on its merits alone and not in terms of some horse-trade we might be making to support/not support this policy in return for supporting/not supporting some other policy.” Which I’m sure does happen in TC but probably not very often. (Maybe I’m naive.) For one thing, without political parties the City Commission members are largely on their own in terms of setting their agendas. In other words, there are no incentives in terms of their likelihood to be re-elected because they’re identified with a particular party and have voted consistent with their party platform. No is their the incentive of voting a certain way for advancement within a party (e.g. house speaker, etc) or later reward by the party with a cushy job, because political parties largely don’t exist in city government. (I’m cribbing madly from a paper I read some of recently, “City Unplanning,” that is long but recommended: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1990353).

    Or maybe by “politics” what was meant was “we’re going to act in the best interest of everyone and not some favored constituency…” But that’s also a political decision. And sometimes certain constituencies are deserving of more attention than others, maybe because they’ve been somewhat ignored in the past. Say, for example, efforts to make TC more bike/ped/transit friendly. There’s cetainly a political consitituency for that, in fact, a lot of those folks read this blog probably. Would spending more money towards those goals be a political act in that it would favor that constituency? Sure it would, but that’s why we have elected officials. If we didn’t want politics we’d just turn it over to a dictator. His/her decisions wouldn’t be political, then, at least in the sense that they wouldn’t necessarily be influenced by anyone’s opinion other than his/her own.

  2. February 24, 2012 at 11:51 am

    Thanks for following with the train of thought and theme. There is certainly no steadfast rule to apply here and in no way would I expect perfection in every process/project/instance. We are human and in politics, we are humans trying to work with other humans (except when we aren’t). Frustrations are to be expected and openess to having those frustrations called out is expected as well. It is all a practice.

    Thank you for the link, too.

  3. February 24, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    I’d also add, again cribbing somewhat from the article I cited, that because City politicians aren’t affiliated with a party they are more easily influenced by smaller, organized groups than they would be otherwise. See, as I’ve argued prior, the influence that small but organized neighborhood associations have appeared to have in regard to issues like ADU’s, the BLA, and beach grooming. Which I think is why a 1000 Friends of TC (heck, maybe a 100 Friends of TC) type organization pushing for ped/bike/transit-friendly land use and transportation, made up primarily of TC voters, could be effective in influencing City policy.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Send MyWHaT a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: