by Joe Fitzgerald
When I was a younger man and indulged in that lowdown southern whiskey, I would sometimes sum up the next day by saying, “I don’t remember church bells.”
Astute observers will immediately recognize literary allusions to Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken,” one of the great rock-and-roll story songs.
Now, 41 years sober, I hear the song differently. It’s the story of someone finding out that an experience may have been unique to him, but wasn’t unique.
Which leads me back, to the surprise of no regular reader, to Bluestone Town Center. BTC is an ill-advised development based on empty promises, misguided good intentions, and governmental obtuseness. Those wishing to know the other side of the story are welcome to Google it.
I was struck during the discussions of the project by how often supporters of the project fell back on baseless accusations of racism and privilege or answered objections that hadn’t been raised. I also noticed things in the city’s deeply flawed housing report that had little to do with building or selling housing.
Come to find out, any discussion of housing faces an underlying set of assumptions. And as any student of left-leaning politics knows, many of those assumptions lead to the expectation that anyone opposing any housing issue must prove their motivations and intentions are not racist, classicist, ageist, or ableist.
Those assumptions were apparently behind some of the supporters’ comments. Those supporters, particularly planning commissioners, answered objections that had never been raised.
Anyone wanting to read more might take a look at an Atlantic interview with Matthew Desmond, author of Poverty, by America, who expresses some of the same accusatory views in his remarks. I have to wonder how many of his political ilk know what kind of damage they do with their blanket generalizations, especially when those generalizations wind up being applied by people who clearly don’t understand them. When real racism, systemic or personal, needs to be answered, those making the accusation lightly or erroneously have already sapped it of its power. Reading the Desmond interview helped put the arguments and some of the flaws in the city’s housing study in perspective.
The year 2016 saw the rise of two people who were fiery symbols of the political fringes but were completely unready to lead a country or manage a government. One became a disastrous president and the other went back to being a cranky senator from New England. The damage from both remains, particularly in the way the rift between the parties spread to rifts within the parties.
In Harrisonburg, that has afflicted both sides. On the Republican side, it has meant the local committee frequently posting on social media some disgusting and childish memes that accomplish nothing other than fanning, on both sides, partisan anger and exposing its often inaccurate roots. On the Democratic side, it has meant a trio of unready council members voting based on ideology more than practicality, especially on the BTC development. There is no telling what damage they may do in the next 18 months or so.
I became involved in Democratic Party politics because it’s the party of possibility: the possibility, among others, of solving or at least addressing deeply rooted societal problems through measures more practical than Biblical injunctions and indiscriminate tax cuts. It’s frustrating to see that party treating government as something to be saved rather than improved. Some of my neighbors, the Chamber Republicans, joined their party because they think a mom-and-pop business doesn’t need the same regulation as a multi-national corporation, and that any limitation on personal freedom, as they define it, should be viewed with skepticism.
Reasonable and pragmatic people on both sides are learning there is no arguing with fringe ideologues who think their talking points are not only wisdom and a gift, but somehow original and unique.
Or as Lowell George put it, “All the boys up there at the bar began to sing along.”
Joe Fitzgerald is a former mayor of Harrisonburg. This column is republished with permission from his blog, Still Not Sleeping.