Folks in New Orleans don't have much time to figure out who to vote for in the upcoming mayor's race. I know who I'm going to vote for, because it's the same person I supported last time. Last time he lost in close runoff with Nagin. One reason was that many white conservatives refused to vote for the son of a guy who, in their view, enfranchised blacks and disrupted their orderly society. I wouldn't have believed that, except I personally know several of those folks and they admitted that they voted against Mitch because of his father's political record.
I hope Mitch will win this time, but I've learned not to discount the power of ignorance. There's a lot of it in New Orleans, and not all of it belongs to uneducated voters. Look, let's face reality. Politicians (and businessmen who run for political office claiming to be 'better than politicians') often rely on ignorance to get elected.
Take John Georges for example. He claims to be a savvy businessman who will shake up 'our inefficient government,' and he counts on ignorant people to accept this statement at face value. He's expecting people to think 'well, he's a successful businessman, so he'd be perfect to bring about reform in government.' First of all, no one can appreciate the appeal of that pitch more than me.
I hate politics, and have for pretty much my whole life. I don't hate politicians, or at least not all of them. I hate the system that makes it possible for people in power to exploit the ignorance of those who elect them. That's what I hate. And the idea that an outsider could ride in on a white steed and make massive changes is a storyline that I've wanted to believe in most of my life.
But about 20 years ago I went to law school. Since then I've been practicing law, which has given me a ringside view of how political power is deployed in practice. No one person can change a political system. Maybe a charismatic leader can galvanize a populace already inclined to make some changes and then put enough pressure on other politicians to bring massive reform. But those kinds of charismatic leaders come along rarely. And when they do they tend to get killed quickly. Alas, the system is hard-wired to resist change.
So, as much as I hate to admit it, if you want real political change you need to look for a politician who actually wants to bring it about, and is capable of doing it naturally. Sure, it's possible that John Georges could make some changes in city government. Possible, but not likely. First of all, he's not charismatic. Second, he's not really true to his claim of being 'above the usual politics.'
One day he boldly proclaims that Jim Letten, the local U.S. Attorney, should be dismissed and replaced by a Democrat. He offers this statement to show he's not racially motivated (e.g. he said "I'd rather have a new U.S. Attorney. It's not a racial thing; it's a Democrat thing.").
Huh?! What does that mean?
Well, let's break it all down and see if we can figure out what he's trying to accomplish by making this patently inane statement. He's not a fool, right? He is trying to say something to attract voters. So which voters is he trying to attract, and what's his angle?
Think about it for two minutes and it's obvious: if you're a rich white guy running for mayor of a city that's predominately inhabited by African-Americans you need to appeal to the so called 'black vote.' Georges' statement of allegiance to the Democratic party, coupled with the weird add-on statement 'it's not a racial thing,' only makes sense if it's designed to appeal to black voters.
He is counting on voter ignorance when he makes the statement. He assumes they won't think "gee, if he's a businessman who claims to be above 'politics as usual' then why would he want to get rid of a U.S. Attorney just because he's a Republican?" He expects them to think "yeah, that's right Jim Letten is a Republican, and he's only interested in convicting (black) Democratic politicians."
But apparently he didn't consider how this statement would play among white voters, especially those who think that Letten has done a great job. So, now he's retracting that statement somewhat. Today he says "I believe Jim Letten is doing an outstanding job," and anyway, "the mayor has no control over the appointment of a U.S. Attorney."
Uh, okay. So if Letten's doing an outstanding job, and if the mayor has no say in who is U.S. Attorney why make the first statement to begin with?
Because Georges is not interested in being consistent. He's just lobbing various statements around hoping that they'll resonate with different constituencies who won't notice the inconsistency. In other words, he's counting on voter ignorance.
And, as much as I fear voter ignorance, in Georges' case I am not worried at all.
There's a limit to every ploy, whether it's a business ploy or a political ploy. The bottom line is this: Georges is out of his league, and will not be elected mayor of this city. If I thought he had a chance I'd be worried. He's a complete sham: he is the worst kind of politician and we've already had our failed experiment with the businessman who looks 'too good to be true," and turns out to be 'worse than we imagined."
Maybe Georges can line up enough white conservatives who 'would never vote for Landrieu,' but first he'll have to make the runoff. And that ain't happening. If Georges somehow did manage to make the runoff, then Mitch Landrieu would be the next mayor. And that would be very good, because Mitch is not the typical politician. He doesn't assume people are stupid and then calculate how to take advantage of their ignorance. He assumes that people want to do the right thing. His chief of staff is a Republican, not because of a political agenda but because she was the best person for the job.
If you want real political change look for the right political leader, and stay away from hacks who want to exploit ignorance. Maybe this time New Orleans will get the miracle that it deserves. If it doesn't then we will have no one to blame but ourselves.