Notes on the Breakfast Table, Page 2
Although I smirked at the bit-too-genuine surprise that he expressed regarding the credibility with which Anchor Rising is treated, I left the East Bay GOP Breakfast impressed with Bill Harsch. In constructing his message as he campaigns to become Rhode Island’s attorney general, Harsch has hit upon the core idea that Rhode Islanders need to — and can be led to — understand: “This office is being wasted.”
He was speaking, of course, of the office that he would like to hold, but one could substitute just about any position in Rhode Island government without diminishing the potency of the complaint. Those who occupy local and state government are servants; their offices are tools for self-governing, not merely honorary positions of privilege, and returning them to usefulness would serve as an unlegislated reform. A failure to act in accordance with this basic idea plagues Rhode Island politics — from the Democratic majority, through the Republican establishment, even tainting the RI GOP anti-establishment.
We can debate the degree to which this state’s public policies accurately reflect the views of its citizens, but it doesn’t take long observation of local politics to conclude that Rhode Island’s government is only nominally representative. Newcomers to the state are correct to lament “Rhode-apathy,” but that syndrome is ultimately a defensive response to the situation in which Rhode Islanders find themselves. The concentration of power in the hands of a few and the fact that, in Harsch’s words, “these people [i.e., insiders] don’t embarrass,” lead us to “feeling shut out.”
It is here that the officials-as-tools message should resonate. The structure of representative democracy in general and a few specific offices (such as attorney general) exist for the purpose of propping open doors through which the average person hasn’t the standing even to draw response when knocking. We don’t have to disrupt our lives in rebellion; we merely have to elect candidates who will use their offices toward the ends that they legitimately serve (fighting, if necessary, to fortify their authority). Among the ends that Harsch would like to pursue, for example, is the scuttling of “cosy insider deals” and monopolies run by companies with no embedded interest in the state.
Few among those who live here would argue with Bill Harsch that Rhode Island “has enormous promise, and we’re being held back.” Looking at the lack of seriousness with which our representatives conduct themselves — whether they are writing in ex-presidents on their ballots, seeking creds with the common man by admitting to having never actually worked, or trawling comic books for inspirational public plaques — Rhode Islanders must acknowledge that none are more responsible for holding back our state than we, ourselves.