Pale Wire (Popscene)

Friday, February 24, 2006

Mayor Williams' faith-based egotism
and DC's biblical struggle to keep its baseball team.

(Evan Vucci/AP)

You needn't hold a stake in district government's struggle over whether to construct a new stadium for its new baseball franchise, The Washington Nationals (née les Expos de Montréal), to appreciate the vainglory on display in Mayor Anthony Williams' blog post of Feburary 15, 2006 (link).

After leading with the assurance, still unrealized more than a week later, that his post will be nothing more than a casual aside before returning to the important business of answering email from DC citizens, Williams uses the "perverse problem" of the stadium battle to ponder the existential question he reads on the minds of every upstanding citizen: Nagged by empty-headed cynics, unsettled by the anomie of modernity, burdened by the weight of responsibility in a world of pain and suffering, where does Mayor Williams find the strength to be Mayor Williams?
How do I bear the relentless, incessant criticism? How do I function in a low – make that zero gratification – environment? How do I keep, or do I keep my wits in the midst of the cacophony we call local democracy? Let’s see, baseball’s feels betrayed, the council feels excluded, the citizens are anywhere from puzzled, penalized, and/or patronized, and the media is unmerciful. What to do?

One can look the other way, but this is not a good practice when crossing the interstate of local politics. One can try to ingratiate one’s self with the powers that be in hopes of clemency, but would you believe this fails my high standards of integrity? No? Well just accept that it simply doesn’t work. Oh, and I know, one can savor the criticisms for lessons learned or sift the sands of experience for deeper meaning, and this sounds good. The problem comes when you realize a lot of the criticism is, while well-intentioned, uninformed, self-interested, and or inconsistent. What happens when the judge in the flip-flop competition is flip-flopping himself?

Where to go, not for policy advice but for inner strength? Over the years I’ve stopped in many places looking for help and consolation. I’ve made it a point to read the great philosophers. The illumination is brilliant, but it’s a harsh, cold, light. In fact, it’s a brutal, barren world out there. Philosophy and the sciences have their place, but they only take you so far. Religion for me has come to play a central role. Really. I mean it. I’m not some evangelical wrestling you down asking demanding you be saved. I’m just saying that it provides a kind of warm hearth on a cold winter night (the kind we used to have before global warming).

You need an inner kind of gyroscope to stay steady in order to, as my Dad always said, keep your eye on the ball. At one of the interminable meetings in the baseball process one of the attorneys told me I had the patience of Job. I took this as a real compliment, because Job, with a book in Hebrew Scriptures in his name, brought us one of the great and dramatic poems in literature. To do this he endured the loss of his family, the removal of his property, the affliction of a terrible disease, and last but not least, a sorrow not even seen on Oprah! He asked God for a sign and God told him to well, trust Him. And Job did. That’s a powerful lesson of faith and hope against all obstacles.

I’ll just leave this way. I heard this reading in a mass I recently attended. It’s so appropriate for the public servant – with emphasis on the service. Seventy percent of the time we’re taking dinner orders and it’s our job to salute smartly and serve our boss, the citizens. Thirty percent of the time, however, we’re required to lead, whatever the hardships and discontent. And that’s what we’re doing with difficult decisions. We’re going to take incoming fast balls aimed at our heads, but we’ve got to stay strong, trying to keep our eye on the ball. We’ve got to stay on our mission, even though we can’t always give a sign.

“The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation seek at sign? Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.’ Then he left them, got into the boat again, and went off to the other shore.” (Mark 8: 3-4)

It's nice that the mayor can find some solace for himself in tradition, but this whole thing smacks of a delusion of grandeur. It should be noted that the "zero gratification" environment he's required to endure comes with a six-figure salary (link). I've spent the last half hour trying to wrap my head around those last three paragraphs. Where does this sermon fit into his 70/30 scheme? Is he really comparing his push for the stadium to Jesus Christ's quest to redeem the eternal souls of all mankind? Why, oh why, would his handlers let him put something like this on the public record? What does this guy do all day?

Do the long-suffering citizens of Washington DC, be they baseball fans or not, even have a prayer, let alone a useful public servant?