One of the observable ways in which politicians prove that they're destined-indeed, obligated-to govern is their ability to produce a well-turned phrase.
Case in point from the R.E. Chicago School of Politics: "Never let a crisis go to waste." Its author used just seven words to describe the skillful use of events to move public opinion toward his preferred ideological position.
Historically conspiracy theorists had invented, much earlier than the Emanuellian phrase, shorter acronyms to express the same crisis-utilization concept: LIHOP and MIHOP.
You'll recognize these from the discussions of the Pearl Harbor attack almost 70 years ago and the discussions of the Twin Towers attack almost 10 years ago. I'll now add a new one: MIWOP-Make It Worse On Purpose.
In terms of political intent, this falls somewhere between Letting It Happen On Purpose, which was the accusation against FDR, or Making It Happen on Purpose which is the accusation against GWB.
In a recent column I outlined a probable example of MIWOP: the 1952 Presidential Campaign of 1952; it focused on subjects ranging from the Korean War (HST in favor, DDE against U.S. involvement in any land war in Asia) to the farm-economy and food-price question (HST in favor of commodity parity price formula, DDE against and for "sub-parity" commodity pricing instead).
Part of the Eisenhower platform was the "food costs you abused consumers too much" argument and the promise to end full-parity pricing even though the inconvenient facts showed that urban incomes had been rising farther and faster than food prices.
Truman's successor designate Adlai Stevenson avoided mention of the urban-consumer food-cost question in his platform and campaign-maybe because his predecessor had been a clear-cut supporter of full-parity for farm commodities. He similarly avoided mention of the higher consumer prices it would supposedly cause.
Was it by accident, in 1951, that the "one pound of butter for two pounds of gold" pop tune was widely played on radio and the then-new T.V. during the DDE campaign?
Was DDE creating a fake crisis, and Making It Worse On Purpose through incomplete statistics-talking about food prices doubling, but not about wage levels tripling, from per-WWII levels-and Tin Pan Alley publicity? You decide.
Since then, there have been many such political MIWOP moments, suspected or obvious, major or minor, nationwide or local. Here are two:
1. The year was 1968, the location was Sudbury in Rutland County; the target was the last of Sudbury's four one-room schoolhouses-a stone structure known as the Hill School.
For 15 previous decades, it had served the elementary grades but was deemed inadequate by then-new Superintendent Lloyd Kelley (even though a modern version of "multi-grading" was already a trendy new organizational device in cutting-edge elementary and middle-school design and operation).
The "crisis too good to waste" was the retirement of the Hill School's sole teacher, admired by the parents and respected by the students for her multi-grade teaching experience, skills, and evident student-achievement results; public opinion demanded a replacement with equal talents and abilities.
Instead, it got-the superintendent's choice with rubber-stamp schoolboard approval-a brand-new teachers college graduate who swiftly lost control.
The super's MIWOP strategy was to enable chaos: to leave her twisting in the wind without guidance or support until, by Christmas, the parents surrendered; they accepted school closure and student transfer with another one-roomer shut-down. The tiny schools debate continues in the rural U.S. and even in not-too-rural-anymore Vermont now; here's one case where an educator ended it MIWOP-style for his own ideological reasons. Years later, he said so.
2. Most MIWOP events are uncertain: consider, for example, the present Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. It's a real (not a faked) crisis of engineering origin with engineering remedies-many of which haven't been deployed because government hasn't approved them.
Is the delay in governmental action in the gulf traceable to benign neglect or malign intention? A recent Opinion Dynamic survey says that 58 percent of respondents consider the now-dominant political class-which is arguably responsible to a fiercely anti-oil, anti-carbon constituency-"to have done less than it could have" in enabling the company and local governments to take action.
Where's the line between just Letting-It Worsen through incompetence and Letting It Worsen On Purpose or a more accusatory possibility, Making It Worsen on Purpose?
An engineering crisis which goes unsolved for ideological reasons-equipment and methods prohibited for deployment-may be an example of MIWOP, the long- term objective being the permanent discrediting of the oil industry.
Think of the successful fake-crisis of 1979-the Three Mile Island anti-nuke campaign.
Consider these 2010 decisions: 1. Reject skimmer boats from 13 countries; 2. Shut down the oil barges for a week for fire extinguisher inspections; 3. Shut down all deep- drilling even while investing $2B in Brazilian deep drilling; 4. misrepresent expert opinion on deep drilling in official report. 5. Deny approval of sand-dredging for barriers.
Can MIWOP be the motivation for these decisions or do you prefer to award all five of them "plausible deniability"?
I like the famous FDR quote: "Nothing in politics happens by accident."
Longtime Vermont resident Martin Harris now lives in Tennesee.