Op-Ed: The Politics of Impatience (and Knowing Whereof You Speak)
Seattle Timeseditorial columnist Joni Balter has a piece running today titled “The politics of impatience,” in which she bemoans how our short attention spans cut real political reform’s chances short:
Ours are the politics of impatience. For Obama, it took less than seven months, amid all that chatter about health-care reform, and many people turned against him. This was not a case of people veering slightly away from his ideas; these were dramatic half-pirouettes. [...] What is it about us that we do not have a year or two to give a new president to make his mark?
It’s a good piece but I think it would have been much stronger had Balter used her own tendency to rush to judgment as an object lesson, rather than note with near-Olympian detachment the behavior of others.
For instance, locally, Mayor McGinn was inaugurated on January 4, 2010. Here’s Balter on December 30, just before McGinn took office:
McGinn comes in as a thousand question marks. He has sufficient public support to lead in a different direction. His election represents an anti-establishment theme in the city.
Yet aside from bicycles uber alles and more micro-process, I am not certain what his course will be.
McGinn, who was very accessible to the media during the campaign, employed an East German state media approach during the six weeks of transition. No one-on-one interviews unless he really likes you.
By January 13, Balter was calling McGinn “Mayor McBicycle,” noting that a full nine days after inauguration, people were “waiting to hear more” about his agenda. Nineteen days in, it was “Mayor McGinn, you have some explaining to do.”
On January 27, Balter had money worries: “Looming over the city is a broader question: Is the new mayor a big spender?” This is a theme she developed on February 10, complaining about McGinn’s proposed property tax increase to pay for the seawall replacement, and that he seemed “eager to ask voters this year or next if they want to extend light rail along the west side of Seattle.” On February 12, McGinn had “stumbled anew.”
Balter then took some time off from McGinn, before returning on March 24 with “Mike McGinn: Seattle’s stumbling ‘un-mayor’ needs to find firmer footing.” That’s less than two months into McGinn’s administration. She let McGinn off the hook for month three, instead praising the Council’s Mike O’Brien for not being like McGinn, but returned in April with: “Four months into his term, McGinn is making his imprint on the city – and it is not a pretty sight.”
Remember that regretful line from today? How “it took less than seven months” for people to give up on Obama? Here’s Balter in May, five months in: “To the uninitiated, the mayor is looking out for us. But the mayor is only a friend of taxpayers when it suits his agenda.”
There’s more, of course, but I think the point is made. With a little more soul-searching, this could have been a great piece about the tension between giving a new leader time and space with which to implement significant reform, and heading off a wild-eyed loon from dragging us all down with him. The latter sentiment is surely shared by those who didn’t give Obama much runway, and Balter when it comes to McGinn. What is the difference?
I can’t tell from reading Balter’s piece where patience is deserved and where it isn’t. And that would seem to be the most pressing question, rather than concern about attention spans.