Starting Small on a Big Stage?
Those who missed it (and are interested) can hear my WRNI Political Roundtable appearance here. (A preemptive admission: The different format from AM talk radio threw off my oratorical pacing, leaving me something to keep in mind next time.)
The speed of the show necessarily leaves many worthwhile thoughts unspoken, but one that I really wish I’d managed to make sparked from the collision of two distinct points made by Scott MacKay and Maureen Moakley: Scott had just complained that promising conservatives and Republicans always shoot for the high-profile federal jobs, when they should start at the state level, and Maureen jumped on the centralization train. These two concepts are in inevitable conflict.
If we acknowledge that one of Rhode Island’s major problems is the dearth of fresh voices in government and the wall of intellectual and habitual rubble that protects entrenched interests and keeps citizens from becoming more involved, then collecting the state’s power base into larger groups is clearly the wrong move. Scott had it right that Republicans and other reformers in the state should start small and view their ascent in long terms. In order to make that path attractive — or even plausible — there must remain local positions that have the responsibility and authority that enables newly minted public servants to learn and maintain their motivation.
The “regionalization” and (now) “centralization” buzzwords have strong currency on the right, of course. Some in the right-leaning minority of the state seem to have an inexplicable belief that we’ll be able to impose a libertarian-conservative structure from above as we simultaneously reform the manifold governing systems into fewer. The problem with this intellectual approach is that it’s a back door to statism: We solve the problem not by moving authority toward the people and other social mechanisms, but to an increasingly legitimized Big Brother.
More importantly, advocating for a reform on the basis of the abstract final product ignores the predicament that we’re actually in. Those with imbalanced and undeserved power, in Rhode Island, will not sit idly by while their subjects build a parallel system. They’ll take it over and either destroy it or use it to increase their advantage.