There are two books I’m eager to review here at FW: Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker (2016) and Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story (4.18.17). Like many others, I’ve been awaiting Goldstein’s book for some time, knowing that significant works take time.
For both books, I’ll proceed with a chapter-by-chapter assessment. I’ve the luxury of taking my time, for two principal reasons: first, blogging allows a self-chosen pace; second and more significantly, both books are worthy of detailed reviews.
There is a third reason, too, and particular to Whitewater: this city’s local policymakers have a position so weak that their particular maneuverings are of little value. For them, unfortunately, it’s the fate of a grinding attrition for the near future. These political few, and those who have been part of this small group over the last generation, will have little part in whatever successful short-term events Whitewater sees.
A sensible, productive person would stay as far away as possible. This class is, with a few exceptions, composed of individually capable people who’ve collectively thrown away capability. See, Whitewater’s Major Public Institutions Produce a Net Loss (And Why It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way). A political critique of Whitewater is now less a matter of advocacy as it is a recollection and narration of cumulative political errors.
The better approach for the city is a true private charity and a true private industry, unconnected to political policy. See, An Oasis Strategy.
Of Whitewater’s local politics, what once seemed to me primarily a matter of advocacy grew to seem more like a diagnosis, and now seems like epidemiology.
There’s a history to be written about all of this, incorporating particular projects into a bigger work, but for now it’s a greater pleasure to consider what others have written.
I’ll start Wednesday, and continue chapter by chapter, taking time with it all.
The list runs in reverse order, from mildly frightening to truly scary.
10. It’s Gremlins. Ordinarily, people assume that the success or failure of government policy rests with government officials. That makes sense, and follows thousands of years in which history has assigned responsibility and accountability to those who hold power.
Listen in Whitewater, however, and you’ll hear that our several challenges come from the location of the city, the people in the city, the people outside the city, the people who might once have heard about the city, or capitalists, socialists, Methodists, whatever…
None of that is true.
The truth is that things go wrong in Whitewater because tiny gremlins interfere with otherwise
self-promoting noble efforts of taxpayer-supported bureaucrats public servants to advance this community.
The existence of these creatures has been known for over seventy years, but seldom publicized to avoid widespread panic in the city.
I’ve obtained documentary footage that Warner Bros. produced in 1943 for the United States Government, so that Pres. Roosevelt and leading figures in the nation might better understand the gremlin threat. They’re devious little creatures, to be sure.
9. Potholes. Back again as a problem, and at this rate it might as well become a perennial. Whitewater’s spending often looks like that of a fashion model, who purchases clothes to look good but forgets (or doesn’t care) to eat properly. A building here, a building there, but few jobs from them and few good roads from place to place.
It screams to visitors: the fundamentals aren’t right.
8. Opinion. It’s as though officials were too fearful to find it on their own. In a small Midwestern town, it somehow takes a survey company, or a polling company, to let officials know what residents would like. No one can ask on his or her own? What’s the point of being an insider – a sophisticated, highly-connected, smooth-talking swell – if one does not know in one’s very bones what the community wants?
The Founders didn’t have School Perceptions or Polco for their towns, let alone their colonies, but they were able to gauge community sentiment well enough. We don’t need a knock-off version of Gallup to get the job done.
For a small amount per person, full-time leaders in this city should be outfitted with a pair of stylish and comfortable Hush Puppies, and told to walk about and see the town in which most of them live.
All it takes is a willingness to walk around – unobtrusively – and listen to what people are saying, and to watch how residents and visitors shop in town.
If one’s working (assuming one is working) at the Municipal Building and cannot for tell for days that oil is leaking into Cravath Lake, a bit of walking around might be the answer.
7. Tenure. It must not be what it’s cracked up to be, because leaders are heading for the door as soon as they can. The big question in Whitewater used to be ‘how long have you lived here?’ The new questions might as well be ‘do you live here at all?’ and ‘if so, how long do you plan on staying?’
I love this small town, and cannot imagine being anywhere else. It’s coldly disappointing that others don’t see the same.
6. Department Heads. Department heads must be scary, because they get just about anything they want, whatever the cost. They may receive a few questions, but the check arrives for the requested amount, just the same.
5. Vendors. Even scarier than department heads. A consultant or vendor shows up, talks down to everyone in the room as though the audience were drunk or deranged, and people scamper around (including department leaders) to give the vendor whatever he wants.
4. Cannibalism. Rather than work together, internal strife divides municipal departments. It’s not always outsiders they’re concerned about – it’s often each other. Problems don’t come from conflicts outside the Municipal Building – they often come from within it. It’s like a B-movie about protein-seeking natives filmed on set at 312 W. Whitewater Street.
3. Memory. One is only supposed to remember events the way, and for as long, as leaders wish them to be remembered. The future will write the history of the present, at a length and in a detail different from insiders’ wishes.
2. Revenue. This city administration now finds itself on a search for revenue, hunting for it wherever it can be found, from residents who already pay taxes. Each dollar of government-acquired revenue is money taken from the private economy in fees, taxes, or through sketchy government-run ventures.
This leads to efforts like the proposal to bring trash into the city. The city is bigger than its government; it rests on private citizens, the foundation of whose prosperity is private enterprise. No one owes an acquisitive few their mediocre and destructive proposals.
1. Stagnation. Our risk isn’t collapse, as once happened to Whitewater. It’s a lengthy stagnation, where longterm stagnation means (inevitability in a country that’s growing) relative decline. We’re awash in public money but it’s not sparked the private economy adequately. There are some impressive green shoots in this city, but they’ll risk withering if we’ve only an arid climate of stagnation.
Presenting the city to the entire area as though it were a vast enterprise zone, with few if any regulations, would be a committed effort to align us more closely with communities enjoying solid growth.
There’s the 2016 list.
Best wishes to all for a Happy Halloween.
A reading from NPR of the Declaration of Independence –
Here’s a version of a poll first run last year: What will you do this holiday? Multiple poll selections are possible —
Via FREE WHITEWATER.