Thursday, August 24, 2006

Populists v. Progressives in Oak Park Politics

Jon Hale of Forum Oak Park takes issue with Dan Haley’s lumping of OP political philosophies into “a narrow range. Liberal, good government, tolerant.”  Rather, there are populists and progressives: 

The NLC/VCA side [winners in last village board election] is populist, catering to what it thinks “the people” want, often to the point of demagoguery, and distrusting the ability of professional experts to help guide policymaking. “Good government” and “tolerance” of opposing views have not exactly been hallmarks of this group’s leadership over the past year. It puts too much faith in the use of public meetings, which it expands ad infinitum until the only folks left standing on a given issue are the extremely committeds, who then are given disproportionate say over the outcome.

This is very familiar.  I can still hear the neighbor and fellow Beye School parent announcing at a PTO meeting in the 80s that he had plenty of time and would remain as long as it took to decide a certain issue.  You hang in there, asking, “Which side are you on?” until the people with lives beyond politics go home.

This side sees Oak Park not as one community, but as a collection of groups to be catered to – especially those that supported it at the polls. In general, this group finds decision-making difficult, especially on complex issues where it’s hard to discern exactly what it is “the people” want and professional expertise is considered untrustworthy.

Ah yes, we need “closure” here.  Majority rules?  How brutal.  Rather than “the people,” what you hear is “the community.”  Yeah, yeah!  Rumble, rumble.

Hale’s Forum, on the other hand, thinks

there is more to policymaking than . . . catering to what we think “the people” want.  . . . there are multiple viewpoints on every issue. A trustee is called upon to consider these public viewpoints then to . . . “revise and enlarge” the public view taking into account the whole variety of community interests, so that policy decisions are based on what’s best for the entire community, current and future.

Not quite philosopher kings, but elected representatives who do not feel need for a referendum on every decision.

This is . . . why we call our Village Board members “trustees” -- we, the people, “entrust” them to make the kinds of decisions on behalf of the entire community that any well-informed and knowledgeable citizen would make if he or she were serving as a trustee and had access to not only the public’s opinions but also professional expertise.

Sounds reasonable.

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