The reason government doesn’t work for the people in Eagle Mountain is that it’s led by men and women who are pretenders. You can generally tell who they are because they often use MBA-style clichés to make themselves sound like business professionals even though they don’t have the foggiest clue how to get things done efficiently.
These people are especially dangerous in government because they tend to surround themselves with others who also look good on paper but have no real skills. And because they need more people to accomplish less work than their counterparts in the private-sector, they always make government bigger and less efficient. No one, conservative, liberal or progressive, benefits from such incompetence and waste.
The ultimate goal of the Pretenders isn’t to make government work for the people; it’s to make government work for them. And it’s the only thing they are really good at.
My strategy for defeating Eagle Mountain’s Pretenders is simple: get voters to fire them. But I knew from the beginning that I couldn’t accomplish this by engaging in normal political activities like writing letters, attending meetings, making public statements, or joining government boards and study groups. The Pretenders generally use these activities to keep pesky citizens like me busy so we can’t ever become a real threat to their empire.
I also ruled out running for office as an effective reform strategy because elected officials don’t have nearly as much power as people think. A lot of their time is taken up with important but mundane work that usually distracts from the vital task of discovering and documenting corruption.
Since I wanted to be as effective as possible I started an unusual political science experiment to see if I could find a better way to reform Eagle Mountain’s horribly corrupt government.
As I saw it the Pretenders have two main weaknesses that I could exploit:
(1) First of all, they know deep down that they aren’t that smart. That’s why they focus so much of their time and energy designing and crafting public images that match the political ideals of their constituents.
They are the masters of government-speak; they dress like professionals; they work in nicely-appointed offices; and they regularly take selfies with other government-types so they can document their powerful friends. They figure that most citizens will never question whether they are the real deal as long as they look the part. But since they know they aren’t . . .
(2) They are deeply afraid of voters. They know that if voters ever learn about the real inner workings of government, they’d be disgusted and demand change. So these Pretenders do everything they can to keep voters out of their business.
For example, when citizens get cranky, they hand out pork. When the press wants to cover scandalous stories, they feed them carefully crafted narratives. When residents complain about taxes, they hold opaque budget hearings that never explicitly explain where all their money is going. They are engaged in a never-ending game of rope-a-dope with local residents to keep them in the dark. In their opinion, our ignorance is bliss.
The Court of Public Opinion
I figured I could exploit these weaknesses by producing detailed reports that rip the covers off their dirty deeds and let voters see for themselves the true extent of their selfishness. I also assumed that once voters knew the truth, they would demand real change.
In the first three years of my writing about Eagle Mountain’s corruption, six incumbent politicians (one mayor and five council members) were replaced by individuals who professed to be reformers.
My strategy worked because I completely bypassed the local media and took my information and analyses directly to voters. I did this by posting my reports online and letting residents know about them through email, Facebook posts, door hangers, flyers, public meetings, and word of mouth. Gossip travels fast, especially when it’s juicy.
Since most voters want to give their government officials the benefit of the doubt whenever they are accused of corruption, I created reports that included lots of links to supporting documentation so voters could judge for themselves whether my accusations were credible. But once they saw the evidence most were convinced, which made it next to impossible for the city to discredit my reports with their spin. Hard evidence is pretty damning.
The lesson: voters can see through government BS if they get the information they need in a format they can easily digest.
Since voters generally don’t want to read dry, audit-style reports that are full of legalese, I didn’t write about policy or process; I wrote about the clever and devious ways individual government officials wasted our money. And by spicing up my reports with descriptive language, I also provoked our officials into showing their true colors even more for the benefit of the city’s voters.
Narcissistic politicians and bureaucrats absolutely hate public ridicule and when I openly called them “incompetent,” “pigs in suits” or “political sociopaths” they did stupid things, even illegal things, to protect their jobs. They withheld public documents, they lied in public meetings and in written statements, and they even engaged in election fraud. When I documented these actions it made it absolutely impossible for honest, informed voters to give them the benefit of the doubt anymore.
While many residents originally wanted to attribute my city’s failings to simple incompetency or a lack of training, most thought otherwise once they learned of the cover-ups. Everybody knows that only guilty people cover up their actions. So even though I could never get the confessions I wanted out of my public officials, I was still able to accumulate enough evidence against them to convict them in the court of public opinion.
Since the court of public opinion has much lower evidentiary standards than regular courts of law, it’s much easier to get convictions against crooked politicians in them. And that’s all we really needed to remove them from office.
Although I’ve only been able to get my city’s elected officials fired so far, it won’t be long before the city’s bureaucrats start losing their jobs too. Eagle Mountain voters are learning through experience to be more discerning in their electoral choices, and every election cycle they choose tougher people to represent them. Hopefully, as they keep learning about the true extent of the city’s corruption they will get more comfortable with the idea of hiring truly tough reformers to clean house at City Hall.
Pitched Battles vs. Guerilla Warfare
The most difficult part of being a traditional government reformer is watching public officials constantly lie and never being able to adequately correct the record for voters. The press almost always sides with public officials and no amount of attending meetings, making public statements, or writing letters can compensate for the enormous volume of BS that government officials produce.
This kind of traditional political warfare is very similar to the tactics employed by American soldiers fighting the Redcoats in the early Revolutionary War. They traded musket fire while facing each other in neat lines until one side was defeated. America’s soldiers almost always lost these pitched battles because the Brits had more men, bullets and training than they did. The same is true of citizens today who try to fight government on its turf by its rules.
I’ve learned through personal experience that it’s much more effective (and fun) to be a guerilla fighter, sniping from a distance, delivering regular corruption reports directly to voters in a way that the establishment can’t stop. These reports inflict massive damage to the establishment’s reputation and I didn’t even have to stand up and become a target for their attacks.
Being a political sniper still has its challenges, but finding and exposing government corruption isn’t one of them because it is seemingly everywhere. And if you know where to look and how to write, you can dramatically change how citizens vote while avoiding most direct contact with the enemy.
Although I don’t have a single public supporter in Eagle Mountain (no one wants to be a target with me, although plenty are willing to act as spotters), it’s amazing how effective I’ve become as a reformer. When I complain about problems now, they generally get addressed because the establishment doesn’t want to look any more stupid and corrupt than they already appear. They know that if they don’t address my valid concerns, their inaction will be added to the already huge pile of public evidence against them, which may eventually cost them their jobs. Although I’m still deeply disappointed that I haven’t been able to get anyone thrown in jail, I’m pretty pleased with what I’ve been able to accomplish so far.
It goes to show that one person with the right strategy can make an enormous difference despite the overwhelming resources at the government’s disposal. I truly believe that other reformers could adopt and improve upon my techniques to be even more effective in their own cities, counties, and states.