Monday, June 13, 2005

Crafty Eric and His Symbolic Actions

If you watched the Metro City Council proceedings during the discussion on the first reading of the Mayor's budget last week, you saw Councilman David Briley point to the irony of voting against the Mayor's proposed tax increases on first reading, which--according to the Metro Charter--would have put the Mayor's submitted budget straight into effect. That immediately caused several opponents to fumble around with their decisions to vote against the budget on first reading, to ask for clarification on the Charter, and to voice support for abstaining from voting as a symbolic gesture against tax increases. Councilman Buck Dozier himself was critical of the symbolists in the Council who had planned to vote "nay" immediately, and called such behavior "silly, " given that voting against the budget on first reading would remove his chances to advise and consent.

Eric Crafton: A Silly Man? Buck Dozier may or may not have been referring to him, but I imagine that Heinz the Baron Kraus von Espy would have done so if he saw Crafton in action last Tuesday. Photograph from
One of those who expressed his determination to symbolically oppose all of the mayor's tax increases was Councilman Eric Crafton. In fact, he rose and asked neither a question of profound oratory nor a query of great legislative insight about the budget process. Instead, he was all show, checking and reiterating for the Council that those who wanted to express symbolic opposition to the Mayor's budget should abstain rather than vote "nay." Symbolism seemed to be Crafton's performative choice over substance.

Crafton was just as exclusively symbolic when, after the Council Meeting, he sent a PowerPoint presentation to two rightwing Tennessee blogs (one of whom is prone to overuse nautical metaphors) with the claim that they show that Nashville is paying more while getting less in return. The numbers crunched by Crafton's crack team did not compare apples to apples (that is metro areas to metro areas), but compared apples to oranges, as PITW's Bruce Barry effectively shows today in his criticism of Crafton's presentation and of the uncritical transmission of Crafton's carefully crafted stats by rightwing bloggers, who oppose taxes, period, without reference to any other consideration.

Crafton's research is biased because he starts from the preformed belief that Metro taxes are too high and school performance is too low and then selects the stats that support that belief. But it is also lazy research, depending on Department of Education statistics without any reference to auditable material on the ground. Crafton's presentation does not indicate any audit of any schools on his own. Doing so might have lead to more substance. For example, Tying Nashville Together conducted independent school audits in the 1990s and found that many of our public schools are old and crumbling and in need of repair. Older urban schools are metaphorical apples compared to the figurative oranges of suburban and rural schools, which are generally much newer, possess more up-to-date plants and facilities, and are less prone to disrepair. Urban schools--being more established--require more money just to operate, let alone accomplish their mission to educate all comers.

I am not going to sit here and suggest that Metro public school performance does not need to be improved. And I have been critical already this month of the public school system's lack of finesse with the budget process. But perhaps if Crafton was less concerned with symbolism and more concerned with substance, he might not have tried to make such a flawed presentation fly. And he might have checked his cynical abstention during Council session last Tuesday. Silly man.

06/15/2005 11:00 a.m. Update: Today's Nashville City Paper quotes Crafton as saying, “It is going to be a one-year budget and whatever we have will fund it for one year and that’s it .... I’m tired of this four-year stuff where we have this big pile of cash that is gone after two years.”

Consider the symbolism of a "big pile of cash" getting sucked up by ridiculous services like picking up garbage, maintaining streets and roads, improving public school facilities, catching stray dogs, arresting drug pushers, maintaining our public parks, and providing low-cost housing and a second chance for those who may be a little down on their luck. I don't know how Crafton expects Metro to operate with increasing costs and increasing demands for services. But I think he's too concerned with emotionally-laden symbols to care about common sense budget issues or long-term planning. Silly man.

06/16/2005 5:30 a.m. Update: The editors in this week's Nashville Scene effectively smacked both Crafton's symbolic gestures on behalf of society's downtrodden and his attempts to channel faulty PowerPoint presentations in one fell swoop. While defending School Board member Kathy Nevill's statements to Metro Council about the sterner tests Metro schools must face in academic achievement against Crafton's indignant comments to the Nashville City Paper, the editors wrote:
There's a difference between saying poor children can't learn and saying that poor children need more system resources to catch up to their more affluent peers. The first is bigotry; the second is simple fact. Metro is an urban system—we must educate the urban poor. If the Davidson County Republicans really want to find something to get bent out of shape about, they should focus on the state's education funding formula, which makes urban systems like Nashville's subsidize rural systems that lack the municipal burdens we must bear. Of course, that would require the Davidson County Republicans—all 12 or 13 of them—to do something other than ghostwrite PowerPoint presentations for Metro Council members like they did for Crafton.
I forgot to mention that the editors adroitly smacked the Davidson Co. GOP while smacking Crafton, too. Now that's what I'm talking about, people. I only wish I would have said it.

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