Monday, December 21, 2009

WPLN interview with Erik Cole only lacked allusions to torches and pitchforks

Last week's WPLN audio interview (attached to this story) of District 7 CM Erik Cole by reporter Daniel Potter sounded more the dance of two Music City Center sugar plum backers than it did a hard-hitting and revealing piece of journalism:
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.


  1. I'm waiting for someone to tell us that this thing is a "slam dunk" and that the tourists will greet us as liberators!

  2. Erik Cole's comments are almost as stupid as Greg Adkins saying it was better to pick a Northerner than to pick cotton. Where do we find these people? Jeez.

  3. Leave the Councilman alone. He and his wife Jen are busy preparing her for a new job that pays 100 grand a year with the arts commission. By the way, a job she has absolutely no experience in. Hmm, payback can be golden.

  4. Erik Cole appears to be yet another reason our party ship is sinking. He has no understanding of what the public needs to wants and refuses their efforts to tell him. He trades his principles and his votes for a leadership position on council and a job for his wife. Then he justifies his behavior by placing himself on the same plane as MLK and FDR. Disgusting.

  5. Call me simple minded but do we really thing Councilman Cole's statements belittled the Civil Rights Movement or the soldiers of WWII?

    I am not discussing the details of the interview or the proposed convention center but to me it sounded like Councilman Cole was illuminating the fact, which I believe many people accept as true, that a public referendum does not necessarily reflect what is best for the given community. To me it appears obvious that he was not comparing the convention center to WWII or the Civil Rights Act.

    I do not understand how nor why people would jump from his statements to an accusation that he is belittling the Civil Rights Movement or WWII vets? I would bet that if we stepped back and listened honestly and objectively we would understand his comparison without the drama. I believe most people would accept that a public referendum regarding Civil Rights on the ballot in Nashville in 1964 would not have passed and I believe that most people would now agree that such a defeat would have been a bad choice for progress.

    Yes, his statement was filled with hyperbole but come on. Would there have been controversy if he had made some comparison to the development of the library system or the park system or some other hotly contested issue? I doubt it.

    We should all stop looking for fights where there shouldn't be any.

  6. Why is no one taking the time to point out it's all "connected"? Cole is appointed to Tourism Committee because he is for MCC, but he suggests he is undecided. Really think he would be up there with Steine if he wasn't? His wife hired to be ED for arts commission. Pay is $100k. Art background: none. Who is chair for arts commission? Alvis. Appointed by who? Mayor. She lobbies for what group? CVB. Advocates of what? MCC.

    No wonder people don't read our daily rag anymore. It's all connected.

  7. You are right, we should not pick fights where there are none and neither should the Councilman. He purposefully wrapped himself in the cloak of noble causes so to assure himself that his position was also noble and just. That is why he made the connection with WW2 and the civil rights movement.

    Erik wants to justify his efforts to stymie public discourse, run interference for the Mayor on a poorly concieved project, and support something that will be bad for Nashville. The only way he knows to do it is to place himself in the pantheon of visionary leadership that swam against the popular tide. He does this even when he has few facts to justify his position.

    Had Mr. Cole truly cared about the fair and equitable treatment of the African American community he would not have slithered out of the room during the Ronnie Steine generated inquest on Roy Wilson. Instead, he would have stayed and defended one of the few african american department heads, Metro has.