WPLN: So, another question that I think is interesting that comes up when we talk about democracy and populism is whether the council is elected to choose what's best for the city, and maybe in some cases what's popular in the city isn't necessarily what's best for it in the long term, sort of making people take their medicine even if it taste bad or something like that. Um, what's your thought there?
CM Cole: Well, I mean, I am in no way equating this decision to the monumental decisions of history, but, you know, if you were to look at civil rights and had taken general referendums in the 60's in this city we would not have had the kind of results we would want.
Let's just pause the tape right there. First of all Daniel Potter framed this line of query with a leading philosophical question (and assertion) about the risks of populism without any specific reference to any risks of allowing public opinion to inform the actual question of building a convention center.
Many of us who assert the need for public input into the most ambitious and risky capital project in local history would agree with the proposition that what is popular isn't necessarily the best. So, why did the WPLN reporter assume us all to be an uncritical mob of populists who believe unwaveringly in majority rule?
This is not a pointy-headed question of tyrannies of majorities. It's a practical question: how is Metro going to provide services to its clientele if it commits to building a convention center for tourists?
Worse still, reporter Potter already seemed biased to the idea that the convention center is our medicine. It's a leap for him to suggest that MCC is good for what ails us, when the treatment may make us sicker.
Initially, CM Cole seemed to deflect the question with the rational point that the issue of whether Nashville builds a new convention center or not is not morally momentous such that a mob might menace a minority. However, it all headed south with Mr. Cole's "but", after which he cited the Civil Rights Movement. In so doing, he minimized the human progress of enfranchising and empowering previously exploited minorities by equating their stride toward freedom with building a convention complex based on trickle-down economic models that keep Metro's wealthy patrons ahead of everyone else.
Erik Cole is a savvy legal services director who probably knows that a more appropriate historical comparison would be between responses to a present capital project and responses to a past capital project. It is patently ridiculous to even mention responses to any capital project in the context of attitudes toward a constitutional issue like universal human rights.
But he didn't stop with the pejorative comparisons. Next CM Cole implicitly compared convention center critics to anti-war isolationists and Nazi appeasers. Cue the WPLN audio:
CM Cole: If you took a referendum in the early 40's about whether or not we should go into World War II, you know, the result would probably have said, "Don't go."Never mind that bankrolling a convention center is nothing like conducting hard-nosed foreign policy. So many soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice of dying in World War II, and to even introduce this in a cerebral dissertation on the limits of populism, instead of focusing laser-like on a pragmatic debate on MCC, seems a bit revolting.
Erik Cole seemed to understand the disjunction and he walked his argument back at the end of the audio:
And, of course, this decision is nothing like either one of those "monumentous" decisions but it does illustrate that there are times when you have to be able to weigh pros and cons with the best available data that's in front of you, and make a decision, and I feel like that's why my constituents elected me.Or maybe he walked his argument back and then shoved it into the ditch. Why should the best available data exclude public preference for certain Metro services and citizen concerns about the negative affects of a capital project on those priorities? Convention center critics don't want to take CM Cole's responsibilities out of his hands, so I'm clueless as to why CM Cole fell back on trite council idiom that merely evades questions about price tags and risks to Metro programs.