Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"Politics is Perception"

“Politics is Perception” The American President


Of its many definitions, philosophy for me is the art of gentlemanly disputation. In a room full of philosophers, no one agrees with anyone else. If you do you, you are considered a lightweight, LOL. For me debate, done with respect, is helpful in getting to know what people are thinking, to learn from each other. It is a way to address constructively differences that need to be ironed out rather than letting animosity seethe below the surface where it can simmer into pot shots or boil over into all out war. Wars breed casualties. Of the numerous posts that discussed the basics of American politics this week on the “Post Mortem” thread, the one thing that was missing was the awareness of the traditionally accepted role of debate and public scrutiny in politics. For those on the political circuit, debate is either a boon or bane. Among the challenges made to me, my freedom of speech comes to mind as something that ought to be respected.

The political philosopher in me believes that public scrutiny and debate are essential to our national political success. Elected officials are subject to scrutiny and debate. Governing councils and elections are appropriate and traditional subject matter for discussions in public forums. Hence, on this forum, no one has been hit below the belt by a commentary on the political scene in the Boro. Believe me though when I say I am a little surprised at the responses to the commentary. I thought there might be a few comments here and there. Instead, some responses were long and thoughtful. People have put in effort here that I respect. This effort speaks to something I said earlier. In such a tiny Boro we are a little different than the national scene. In such a tiny geographic location over the years, we grow together to be like a loose knit family. We are a little less thick skinned. Not a bad thing at all, I think. Thin skins keep us sensitive. What we do to each other is personal. We need to realize this. It was personal for those who posted on the comment section. Hence the lengthy posts, mostly from Democrats who felt personally wounded by my remarks, defending their rights. I can understand their feelings. It was personal for the Republicans who addressed specific complaints these Democrats made after the 2006 election. To see these Democrat colleagues actively campaign to remove them from council and then be expected to feel nothing about those actions is really a lot to ask. To me it seems that by campaigning actively against their Republican counterparts with some of whom they had no particular ax to grind, these few Democratic council members were telling these Republicans--- we do not want you at the banquet table with us any longer. As we sit together, we are working to have you removed. It was humiliating. To those who are continuously accusing me of sour grapes, I recall weeks of lamenting by Democrats after the 2006 election. I had written one, solitary post on the subject. Will the Democrats be as responsive to complaints made after this election, as their Republican counterparts were to theirs in 2006? The Republican did not dismiss their complaints as sour grapes.

Regarding 2007, kudos to both parties! Democrats and Republicans have a right to be very proud of what they accomplished last year under the spirit of mutual cooperation. The 2007 council saw efforts by both parties to end partisan politics. Such a feat cannot be accomplished unilaterally. As Spock would say--- that is not logical.

“Politics is perception”. My perception of what came down in the last election is that it was a power play against this peaceful council. This perception is based on the way candidates were fielded. I believe some were recruited. The more candidates the Democrats fielded, the more the vote is spread. This wider vote spread increases the likelihood of unseating the opposition. All that was necessary to immobilize the Republicans on Boro council and for uncontested power then to fall into the hands of the Democrats is for the Republicans to lose just one seat. I am talking here about a basic, objective, mathematical analysis. If this is not vintage partisan politics, tell me precisely what it is. These are reasonable conclusions to draw from my perceptions. To those tempted to say my assessment has to do with my husband’s role in the election, I suggest that many would draw the same conclusions given the same perceptions. I hope people will judge the validity of my viewpoints by their merits and not dismiss them outright because of my name.

Councilman Legato used a very apropos word in his post, “disappointment”. He is disappointed in the views I expressed. Others are disappointed in actions he took. There is disappointment enough to go around from both perspectives. Disappointment notwithstanding, everything done here by either side is legitimate according to the ground rules of American elections and politics. Being legitimate does not prevent disappointment or critiquing. A lesson we can all take from the table.

Choice is the keystone of American politics and choice is the key to the success of our political system or its failures. As far as I am concerned, most of us made a poor choice in the last presidential election. We are responsible for re-electing a president who we knew did not honor the Constitution and the Geneva Convention, as he should. We are responsible for the loss of the American moral high road in the eyes of the world as a result of our votes. I do not know what could be more devastating and perhaps threatening to our national security. This downfall was all accomplished by a legitimate American election. Legitimacy does not guarantee wisdom. Did we Americans make wise choices then? Here in little Flemington we too are responsible for how our Boro runs. We are responsible for our choices and what these choices set in motion. Nothing done in the last election was less than legit but other choices were on the table.

On a more personal note: Analyzing a local election is par for the course if you are blogging on the Boro at large. I wrote this follow up to address more fully posts that people evidently took a fair amount of time to compose. Here, I have tried to bring some cohesion to the discussion as well. I am a “peace on earth” sort of person. I do not want to set up a battlefield for reasons I have already discussed. I speak for myself here but there are others who certainly share my views. Not everyone posts comments. Quite candidly, I am surprised that the Democrats were not already aware of just about anything I had said. They have feelings that they freely and publicly expressed after 2006. Republicans have feelings. A great deal of election behavior is transparent. But in the grand scheme of things I can see no overall harm by placing some cards on the table. To me in politics it see always more dangerous when we operate secretly. Democrat Councilman Legato has advised on his post that non partisanship will continue on the new council. I am glad to hear it.

Stay tuned.

9 comments:

Linda in NJ said...

You don’t seem to comprehend that your story is your story. It isn’t necessarily the truth. Here you do remark that perception is important. Great! Your perspective is just that—one of many. The other thing that is frustrating is that we make specific statements of fact, directly rebut you with your own words, and only get an oblique “You are taking me out of context.”

Here are the facts:

Three seats opened up on Council.
All three happened to be taken at this time by Republicans.
The Democratic Party of Flemington decided to run candidates to challenge these seats.
The Democrats and Republicans ran clean, issue-oriented campaigns.
The people of Flemington voted overwhelmingly for Republican incumbents Erica Edwards and John Gorman.
The people of Flemington then cast the next highest number of votes for Democrat Linda Mastellone.
The people of Flemington then cast four fewer votes for Republican Phil Greiner (I don’t know the exact final count after the election was certified).

What you continue to cling to is a fiction. Erica, John, and Phil were not entitled to keep those seats just because you thought they did a good job. They had to fight for them, just as Joey, Loretta, and I did. Council 2007 was good. We all agree. But the people of Flemington want a different (ever so slightly!) direction. Council 2007 was not a monolith. It was (as all elective bodies are) a house of cards.

Next year, Erica’s seat is up again. She and I commiserated on the fact that she will have to start the campaigning process again this summer! Sandy’s seat is also up. I imagine that the Republicans will run someone against Sandy, as we will most likely run someone against Erica. If you truly feel that Sandy and Erica, part of the “Pax Flemingtonia,” deserve their seats without a fight, then I hope you will bring your significant philosophical debating skills to the Republican Party and demand that Sandy run unopposed. After all, running someone will mean that Bob and John will be telling Sandy, as you say, “We do not want you at the banquet table with us any longer. As we sit together, we are working to have you removed.” And that, according to you, would be wrong.

You write: “To see these Democrat colleagues actively campaign to remove them from council and then be expected to feel nothing about those actions is really a lot to ask.”

First, they are DemocratIC colleagues. Second, I refuse to believe that people like Erica, John, and Phil, who have spent considerable time in public service, feel that Mark and Brooke campaigned for me because they don’t like their colleagues. I trust that they have thicker skins than that. It wasn’t personal. It was political. I am proud to say that I have comfortable relationships with Erica and John, and, during this year, shared some light moments. I don’t know Phil that well, but still, I made sure that every conversation I had with your husband was cordial and respectful. He offered himself for public service last year and should be commended for that. We aren’t enemies. It’s his politics I disagree with. Heck, I disagree with my brother’s politics, too. Big deal.

This is a long quote from you, but I don’t want to be accused of taking you out of context again:

“’Politics is perception’. My perception of what came down in the last election is that it was a power play against this peaceful council. This perception is based on the way candidates were fielded. I believe some were recruited. The more candidates the Democrats fielded, the more the vote is spread. This wider vote spread increases the likelihood of unseating the opposition. All that was necessary to immobilize the Republicans on Boro council and for uncontested power then to fall into the hands of the Democrats is for the Republicans to lose just one seat. I am talking here about a basic, objective, mathematical analysis. If this is not vintage partisan politics, tell me precisely what it is. These are reasonable conclusions to draw from my perceptions.”

Again you invoke the “Power Play” argument. That I’m power hungry. You are simply seeing something that isn’t there. Again you assume that this “peaceful council” was violated by the change. Were candidates recruited? Yeah. Was Phil recruited to serve last year? You bet. In years previous, did the Republican Party recruit candidates to run for open seats? I’ll bet you a million dollars. And I’d win. So, your “recruitment” argument fails on its face.

“Immobilize the Republicans?” Bob Hauck is the mayor and he sets the agenda. Both Erica and John are popular and active members of Council. Have they been stripped of power? Not where I sit. They have important work to do, as do all the members of Council. And, again, I need to ask you where these ideas of yours come from. It seems to me that you are making them up to defend your point.

“Uncontested power?” How did I get on Council? A coup? Or did I walk the town, every street and every house, from May to November, asking the voters of Flemington for their support? It wasn’t “vintage partisan politics.” It was just politics. So, again, you are wrong—your “reasonable conclusion” is anything but.

Ok, it’s time to let someone else explain to you how your perception is not based in reality.

MediumPetey said...

Boy, that Greiner girl can sure spin’em!

Once again, Greiner’s blog posts are like an enigma wrapped in a Möbius strip stuffed inside a Klein bottle. She crafts her own narrative, which is the foundation of her own assumptions, upon which her assertions are based. Any first year college student majoring in Logic can see where she falters over and over again.

She STILL advocates that the best thing for her “beloved” Flemington n 2007 would have been an uncontested race in which (a) her husband and (b) the incumbent Republicans would have been awarded their seats for another term, without working for it. The fact that this result would have required a secret ‘back-room’ deal between the Republicans and the Democrats, subverting true democracy in Flemington seems to escape her understanding over and over again. Go figure.

She asserts that she wants open political debate, but she wants no contested political race that would put the issues in front of the voters. She asserts that there seems to be something wrong or immoral with a political party recruiting candidates, but that is exactly how her husband became a candidate and Councilman himself.

Greiner seems to disdain the “partisan politics” that is the foundation of any democracy. I am not quite sure where and when “partisan politics” became a such a four-letter word; perhaps it is a function of the personal squabbling that sometimes occurs. However, Mrs. Greiner, I can assure that much more positive work comes out of partisan policy making than you are willing to admit to. Some of the best national, state, and [yes, even] local legislation has come from the partisan give and take that is a function of negotiation and compromise. That is a positive attribute, not the negative one you assert.

Giving voters a choice is a good idea, even amongst council members who get along. Had your husband been the best candidate this year, he would have won. He was not and he lost. Welcome to democracy.

Some may assert that on a local issue by local issue basis, the Republican candidates differed little from the Democratic candidates. Perhaps that is the way it seems on the surface, but their core value systems differ greatly. And that is the way some people vote, on the basis of that value system difference.

And sometimes the values differences are vast:

Democrats are largely pro-choice; Republicans pro-life. Democrats by and large opposed the Iraqi War from the beginning; Republicans still support this president in this war. State Democrats believe in marriage equality, oppose the death penalty, and support the banning of assault weapons. State Republicans support the death penalty, oppose marriage equality, and oppose an assault weapons ban.

Do these values differences come up in local issues? Most of the time, probably not. But sometimes they do, in subtle ways.

Which party stood for open government and a more proactive budget process through true zero-based budgeting? The Democrats. Which party stood for a centralized budget closed-door budget process for years? The Republicans.

Which party made overcrowding a major issue, and did nothing about it? Hauck and the Republicans. Who ended up crafting the anti-stacking ordinance that the Council eventually passed? Democratic Councilman Legato, that’s who.

Which Council member crafted a ‘supposed’ clean campaign ordinance that was unconstitutional and would have subjected the Borough to the possibility of First Amendment lawsuits? Republican Councilman Phil Greiner, that’s who. Who first pointed out these inadequacies in Greiner’s ordinance, and then recommended his own more effective ‘clean campaign ordinances? Democratic Councilman Mark Legato, that’s who. The voters of Flemington observe the subtle

Yes, the Council worked well together in 2007. That is in large part due to their shared value of ‘respectful disagreement’, combined with their difference in policy values. Partisan policy differences in values are the backbone of any democracy. Phil Greiner lost not because of any ‘power play’ or because candidates were ‘recruited’ or because of any vote spread.

He lost because Linda Mastellone was the better candidate, period.

Now, that’s democracy.

Jeff said...

At the suggestion of a Borough resident, I decided to read the postings (and comments) on this blog. I spent a few minutes reading each and every posting to date, including all the comments, and I have a few observations to add to the fray.

First, I am uncertain as to the purpose of this blog. Is the intent to be the personal opinions of one resident -- a perfectly legitimate enterprise -- or a forum for discussion on events happening in town.

For guidance, I read all the other "community" blogs hosted by the Courier News. They all were quite different than the majority of the postings here. In large part, they talked about important local meetings (local school boards, county freeholders, etc.), issues of concern (a rail line in Hillsborough), or personal observations (a theft in a mall, visiting downtown Somerville).

While this blog has hit on some of these topics once or twice, for the most part it has been a forum for one writer's opinions on the recent election. (And the subsequent reaction from a handful of others.)

The Courier News does have a political blog, which addresses partisan and other issues that are relevant to residents of Central NJ. But this blog is listed as a "community" site. So I am confused as to what Mrs. Greiner has been asked to do by the CN.

My second observation is about this ridiculous debate between the wife of a sitting Council Member, two sitting Council Members themselves, and one Council-Member-Elect. Do our elected officials have nothing else better to do?

Of course there is party politics in Flemington Borough. There's party politics everywhere. To pretend otherwise is to ignore the 230 year history of our Republic. But when party politics trumps actual governance, no one wins.

Mrs. Greiner, I hope that you drop this discussion thread, and use this forum to address the substantial issues that face all of us here in Flemington: Property Taxes, Downtown Economic Development, Traffic, Schools, Public Safety and the like. Or, if you prefer, use this space to talk about the great things that happen here, and about the outstanding residents and business owners who volunteer their time and energy to improve our town, making it a wonderful place to raise a family. Such a forum would be well received by all.

I am not looking for anyone to comment on my posting here; please let's move on!

Courier News Flemington blog said...

Hi Jeff,


From where I sit there was a lot of bitterness as a result of the 2006 very partisan election. This is something I think Flemington residents were not at ease with and do not want to see again. So I think the issue of partisanship is a fair one to raise. From my end this discussion has run its course, although those who wish to continue the discussion are welcome to.


To clarify: The CN explained that they want me to blog on anything Flemington. I think politics/elections fall into that category. I pretty much have the discretion to select the topics I decide to discuss. Flemington is a small Boro pretty much set in its ways as I see it. It does not have as many hot button issues as say Bridgewater and Hillsborough. Right now during the holidays things here are pretty quiet. In the post, “Or, Maybe You Have Landed in Flemington”, I have invited town folk and others to feel free to contact me with issues or topics. I am certainly open to discussing them. So feel free. Also, blogs are not news items. They are opinion pieces, intended to generate discussion.

On the previously mentioned post and the one entitled "Why Don't They Ever Write Back" I talk more about the blog and my view of it.

The posts are my impressions of life in Flemington for over 20 years.

Thank you for checking in and for your interest.

Courier News Flemington blog said...

Everyone,

My second post was an attempt to tie together lose ends. I have said what I intend to say on the subject and will just wind up repeating myself. From my viewpoint it was a good discussion and I think each side knows how the other feels about things. Everything I meant to say I have posted already. All are welcome to stay and discuss and enter comments.

MediumPetey said...

"From where I sit there was a lot of bitterness as a result of the 2006 very partisan election."

You're so off the mark, yet again. There was not bitterness; there was outright anger. And it was NOT due to 'partisanship'.

The 2006 election was more than just 'very partisan'. It was down right nasty. The Republican candidates attacked the integrity, honesty, and reputation of all the Democratic candidates. They knew were they were lying when they put out their political message, and they put it out to the public anyway. They lied, and they knew they were lying.

All elections are partisan where there is a form of local government that allows political parties ---as oppopsed to school board elections, for example, where there are no parties allowed.

So, the nastiness had nothing whatsoever to do with partisan politics, and you know it. It had to do with the willingness of the Republican candidates to stoop as low as Karl Rove and Tom Delay in 'swiftboating' in a local election. That is why the Courier News called the election campaign the Republican put forth the nastiest ever in Flemington. From where I sat as a voter, it was disgusting. The kind of election you'd expect on the national level, not in a local election.

So, don't try to 'pass off' the nastiness on 'partisanship'. If you cannot be morally honest, at least be intellectually honest.

Betsy said...

To those who are continuously accusing me of sour grapes, I recall weeks of lamenting by Democrats after the 2006 election.

Interesting take. I seem to recall a certain Republican refusing to admit defeat after the 2006 election. It wasn't enough to be nasty and full of lies for the Republicans, they needed to go to court and spend money and then call a special election in order to lose again.

Your sour grapes are beginning to smell rank, Ms. Greiner.

Courier News Flemington blog said...

Linda,

Along the lines of Jeff’s comments about topics, in a prior post, ”Or, Maybe You Have Landed in Flemington” I have invited members of the community to provide me info they want to get to the residents in the Boro. This invite includes all members of Boro council who want to explain Boro council issues to the Boro residents--- the mayor, John or Mark and Sandy, Erica, Brooke and you. So feel free to bring up ideas and topics you as a council member feel are important to discuss. This again is an open invitation to all council members and Flemington officials.

MediumPetey said...

You continue to "gostak distims the doshes" all over the place.

Get over yourself. Stay tuned for that.