Trying to be everything to everyone is a pretty common approach to politics.
Just look how far it’s gotten Mayor Kevin Faulconer.
But often when you make pleasing everyone your goal, you end up just saying nothing at all – and pleasing no one.
That was certainly the case with a statement released this week by Councilwoman Barbara Bry in response to the mass shooting in her district. You can see Bry trying to bend backward in both directions – hoping not to offend the victims, who are upset over the police quickly dismissing race as a motive in the shooting, and the police department, an agency with which Bry works on the Council.
The fact that almost all of the victims are people of color cannot be ignored. The survivors of this attack have spoken out and believe that people of color were targeted by the shooter.
The SDPD is conducting a thorough investigation, and I applaud their diligence in handling this case. I am hopeful that the investigation will shed light on the motives behind this devastating attack.
Reading that is kind of like eating a cotton ball. You know your eyes just processed words, and yet they carry no meaning. The victims’ belief they were targeted must not be ignored. But also … the police are working thoroughly and diligently. Faulconer, the master of saying nothing and offending no one, would be proud.
Contrast that with a statement released by Councilman David Alvarez this week dealing with the mayor’s proposed budget and the San Diego Police Department’s officer retention problem. He takes direct aim at Chief Shelley Zimmerman’s insistence that the problem is out of her control – it’s the national media’s fault! – and says the city needs to use data to get to work crafting a solution.
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I'm taken aback by Sara Libby's criticism of Councilmember Barbara Bry for Bry's response to the tragic mass shooting in her district. I urge this valued journalist and editor to give the statement a second look as I had precisely the opposite reaction.
The rightfully admired Ms.Libby writes that reading Bry is "like eating a cotton ball. You know your eyes just processed words, and yet they carry no meaning."
When I read Bry's comments I saw intelligence, empathy for the victims and others in their community who often feel isolated and attacked, and Bry's appropriately measured support for fact-gathering and analysis before we make final judgements about what caused the shooting and what that may imply for all of us.
Consider a contrary take on Bry's statement from the perspective of British writer Ian Leslie's 2013 writing in Slate on the disclosure of the NSA's massive accumulation of data on American citizens: "Ambivalence is not the same as indifference, with which it is often confused. Someone in an ambivalent state of mind is experiencing an excess of opinion, not an absence of it... F. Scott Fitzgerald believed that a capacity for ambivalence indicated intellectual ability: 'The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.' Freud saw emotional ambivalence as an intrinsic part of the human condition."
There is a big difference between Bry's intelligent ambivalence and the overly masticated bafflegab that emanates from some politicians, truly mealy-mouthed "cotton balls" (if I may mix my botanical metaphors.)
I have protested various U.S warlike initiatives since I was 14; I also support a muscular military, capable of defending Americans at home and abroad. Must I choose between these opinions, or can they both be valuable? Similarly, I believe nuclear energy may be the least polluting, most efficient way to meet the world's growing power needs. At the same time, the possibility of a nuclear accident scares the bejesus out of me and nuke waste disposal is problematic. Is it intelligence or dissemblance to believe both simultaneously?
As Editor of Voice of San Diego, Sara Libby must read dozens of doughy press releases and politician statements daily, so I understand where she is coming from. Still, I hope she can simultaneously process a genuinely thoughtful -- and perhaps intelligently ambivalent -- comment from someone rare like Ms. Bry. :)