A Fine Line Between Stupid and Clever

Editor’s Note: This is an opinion piece in the Wanganui Chronicle.


“It’s such a fine line between stupid and…clever.”

This iconic quote from the iconic film, This is Spinal Tap, may be the best way to sum up the US Republican Presidential Primary race. Simultaneously there are moments of brilliance and moments of inanity – if that is even a word.

To give an idea of the latter, Marco Rubio has resorted to primary school bathroom humour just to keep up with the sophomoric insult-wielding Donald Trump. And that’s not to mention Ted Cruz who is the real wordsmith among the frontrunners.

To give an idea of the moments of brilliance, last week The Donald made a statement about the Iraq war during a debate that many believe but dare not utter due to some unspoken Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome of the American right: “They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction, there were none. And they knew there were none.”

After all the extreme statements Trump has made over the last half-year, this is the first time he was thoroughly attacked by the Republican establishment. Recall, Bush II was President when the US went to war with Iraq and his brother Jeb – until recently – was the chosen GOP establishment candidate.

With a price tag over $1 trillion (US) and based on bogus ‘intel’, what possible explanation could be offered by the architects of war? As far as I can tell it is this:

Seemed like a good idea at the time.

 If ever there was a motto for these times of recklessness and unaccountability, it is this. Take, for example, changing the water supply for Flint, Michigan to save money. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

Closer to home, we have had more than our fair share of Spinal Tap moments that have leaned decidedly toward stupid over clever. Most obvious is the $38+ million seemed like a good idea at the time looming over ratepayers. To add insult to injury, our wise local leaders chose to pay an additional million dollars to install and operate an ineffective odour fence around the dysfunctional wastewater treatment plant. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

Some of these same local leaders also chose to defer drainage work in another part of the city, which has now blown out its cost. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

Most recently our community has been hooked for another million dollars in legal fees to pay for a settlement that will never be disclosed. I strongly suspect we lost the dispute, and find the timely resignation of the Chief Executive troublingly suggestive of defeat. But what does it matter heaping another million-dollar bill on ratepayers?

From this perspective, throwing $75,000 at an unnecessary on-line voter trial is peanuts. How else can we desperately ascend the list of Smart Cities without spending money on every shiny techno-gadget that comes our way? So what if the trial is to “work out the bugs” and possibly as plagued as Novopay. We are an innovative community and boldly embrace unproven, hybrid, cutting-edge designs that are sure to save us money, be highly effective, and make us appear more attractive in the mirror. What could possibly go wrong?

Whanganui needs more moments of brilliance and fewer of the other type. “No More Regrets” might be a solid campaign slogan for someone running in the upcoming local body election, although it appears the going slogan is “Make Whanganui Great Again.” Sound familiar?

Democracy works best when candidates run on their records and voters do their homework. It also works best when substance replaces rhetoric, although we all know that to be exceedingly rare. Finally, it works best – as Steve Baron pointed out recently in an excellent opinion piece – when it is transparent.

Baron’s piece on Whanganui District Council Holdings is exactly the type of journalism our community needs: thoughtful, well-researched, relevant, and meaningful. I would go as far to say it is the best piece of writing I have seen in the Chronicle in 2016. Our community desperately needs this type of content to ensure a vibrant democracy. Here’s hoping we see more of it in the months to come.


Peace, Estwing

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