After the recent Tucson shootings, Pima County sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik, a Democrat, almost immediately and without evidence claimed that conservative anti-government speech had set off alleged killer Jared Lee Loughner.
Yet the more the unfolding details informed us that the Communist Manifesto — and Mein Kampf — reading Loughner was mentally unstable, apolitical, and without discernible interests in contemporary issues, the more the flamboyant Dupnik went on television to expand his cast of culpable characters. He finally ended up blaming everyone from Tea Party opponents of President Obama to talk-show host Rush Limbaugh — and became an instant celebrity and hero to left-wing partisans.
Just as disturbing as the incoherence of Dupnik’s demagoguery was his apparent professional incompetence. As the sheriff’s nationally televised blame narrative imploded, it was also disclosed that Loughner had a long record of aberrant behavior and substance abuse in Pima County — known to local law enforcement, including Dupnik’s own department.
More disturbing still, if Dupnik were right that a pre-existing climate of conservative-engendered hate was not only pervasive in Tucson, but might also prompt an unstable person to kill, why had he not dispatched at least one of his 500 officers to patrol the open-air public event sponsored by Democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords?
Dupnik is a good example of the increasingly common bad habit of local politicians to resort to cosmic sermonizing when more mundane challenges go unaddressed. In Dupnik’s case, it is hard to monitor all the nuts like Loughner in the sheriff’s department files to ensure they don’t get guns and bullets and pop up at political events, but apparently far easier to deflect subsequent responsibility by sounding off on political issues.
New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg was a past master of lecturing about the cosmic while at times ignoring the more concrete. Governing the boroughs of an often-chaotic New York City is nearly impossible. Pontificating on the evils of smoking, fatty foods, and supposed anti-Muslim bigotry was not only far easier but had established the mayor as a national figure of sensitivity and caring. He was praised for his progressive declarations by supporters of everything from global warming to abortion.
But Bloomberg’s carefully constructed philosopher’s image was finally shattered by the December 2010 blizzard and his own asleep-at-the-wheel reaction. An incompetent municipal response to record snowfalls barricaded millions in their borough houses and apartments, amid lurid rumors of deliberate union-sponsored slowdowns by Bloomberg’s city crews.
For the last three years, California has managed through poor governance to simultaneously achieve the highest deficits in the nation; the highest combination of income, sales, and gas taxes; the best-paid teachers; and among the lowest school test scores in the country. After failing along with the legislature to balance budgets, improve the schools, lower taxes, trim state expenditures, and deal with millions of resident Mexican nationals without diplomas, English-language skills, or legal status, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reinvented himself as a globally celebrated green-action hero of the solar, wind, and alternative-energy lobbies.
His outgoing legacy is a $25 billion budget deficit waiting for the newly inaugurated governor, Jerry Brown, along with all sorts of fresh environmental regulations imposed in recessionary times on a struggling private sector that is often unprofitable or on the verge of leaving the state. So Schwarzenegger left office with a 22 percent approval rating and a high-profile schedule of engagements speaking to green groups as a heroic environmental celebrity.
It is a human trait to focus on cheap and lofty rhetoric rather than costly, earthy reality. It is a bureaucratic characteristic to rail against the trifling misdemeanor rather than address the often-dangerous felony. And it is political habit to mask one’s own failures by lecturing others on their supposed shortcomings. Ambitious elected officials often manage to do all three.
The result in these hard times is that our elected sheriffs, mayors, and governors are loudly weighing in on national and global challenges that are quite often out of their own jurisdiction, while ignoring or failing to solve the very problems that they were elected to address.
Quite simply, the next time your elected local or state official holds a press conference about global warming, the Middle East, or the national political climate, expect to experience poor county law enforcement, bad municipal services, or regional insolvency.
— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.© 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.