I'm at the kitchen table writing this week's column. The only distraction facing me is Leonardo DiCaprio filling the television screen, a mild background for what little else I am doing, mostly mumbling to myself. I've seen nearly all of his movies since first noticing him sitting in a tree in What's Eating Gilbert Grape? Not all, but most, and I've never seen this particular movie so it has my attention.
The movie is J. Edgar, and Leo is playing the role of J. Edgar Hoover, the misogynist, racist, gay-hating director of the FBI of my youth. Hoover was a deeply closeted homosexual who took revenge on anyone who questioned his sexuality. Some find that ironic. I don't. Lots of powerful men and women get there via the insecurity railroad while living two lives, and only a thin line separates the brain surgeon from the butcher.
Depending on your perch, Hoover was either good or evil. The man who basically created the FBI also used FBI resources to instill fear in private citizens and to violate civil rights in the name of national security (a playbook never far off the shelf of modern politicians). When Hoover died, the announcement was made in a televised broadcast by then-President Richard M. Nixon. They were a pair, those two. I've just learned that Hoover had served faithfully eight U.S. presidents dating back to Calvin Coolidge. Eight!
A person accumulates oodles of power in that much time. Lots of people will owe him favors, and more will grow to fear him—as was the case with at least three of those American presidents who feared dumping Hoover would expose them to some type of blackmail, the type that could end a presidential career.
Appointed government positions—like head of the FBI— are often gained by one person doing a favor for another. That's true all the way from head dog catcher in Chicago to head of Utah's UTA. During every political cycle we moan and groan about big government, but government keeps growing. What a surprise. Nationally, we recycle the very same people to Washington, D.C., for decades and we replicate that in our individual statehouses. The very ones who say that they are against big, bad or corrupt government are, often as not, big, bad and corrupt. As a current Facebook meme points out, we grind about a president who might serve four to eight years, but we have no qualms about keeping a senator in office for 40 years.
We vote partisan. We stick to party lines. We vote on dogma. We reward fear. Even if we take the time to really study a candidate, we end up making a voting choice not based on practical leadership or new ideas, but on wedge issues like abortion, gay rights or, the latest hot potato, Syrian refugees. Oh, by the way, J. Edgar Hoover cut his government teeth by identifying disloyal foreigners, mostly Germans after World War I and marking them for deportation. Ninety eight were arrested. Out of millions. He expanded that duty into identifying domestic radicals—like Martin Luther King Jr. and Vietnam War protesters. Ahhh, such great memories. Sound familiar? The current presidential stump debates are just a repeat of America in the 1920s and 1960s, with different surnames and different causes.
So, what of all this? Who cares about a wrinkled old pervert anyway? I don't.
I just find it interesting when the above is juxtaposed with today's other big news: Mayor-elect Jackie Biskupski has asked for the resignation of all Salt Lake City department heads and staff, with the exceptions of the fire chief and interim police chief. I know virtually no one inside City Hall, yet I'm confident that each of them is capable in whatever position he or she holds. However, Salt Lake City residents elected a new mayor who can select her own team of department heads to run the city on her terms. That's politics.
Some people think she's wrong, that's she's being a Grinch. Well, if that's the case, then let's hold elections in the summer, so that an incoming politician doesn't have to worry about robbing a skateboard from beneath someone's Christmas tree. Folks making that kind of argument are plain silly—and every employer in Utah knows that, for no sooner is the Christmas ham eaten than people begin dusting off their rèsumès. No one quits before Christmas.
The holidays should have nothing to do with Biskupski asking for resignations. Nor should "arrogant," the label just now attached to her by one of her biggest supporters, former Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson (who reaffirmed his support on Facebook).
Setting her own tone for how she will run Salt Lake City, and with whom, is not arrogance, it's leadership. She's drawn the line. We have four years to learn if it is good leadership or bad. She only did what Salt Lake City voters asked her to do—lead. That was among Ralph Becker's greatest faults. He was not respected as a leader, just one who could be nice to the right people.
I'm sure there is not an entrenched, manipulative J. Edgar Hoover-type currently working in City Hall. Well, I hope I'm sure. And I hope as many as possible hold their positions and continue to do good work for Salt Lake City. But do remember, some of them got their jobs in exactly this manner, replacing former public servants but without the hubbub. This is the government we always ask for, and we shouldn't be complaining about it. Because, what good does it do to change presidents and not Congress? What good is it to replace mayors if they stand merely for portraits? CW
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