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The problem with Cardella

BY SHAWN GUDE | JANUARY 18, 2010 7:30 AM

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Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors special election is a big one. Not because of its competitiveness — Janelle Rettig should have no problem winning in heavily Democratic Johnson County — but because of its symbolism.

The contentious race pits Rettig against Republican Lori Cardella and mirrors the ideological schism playing out across the country.

Rettig is the consummate Johnson County Democrat; in Cardella, Johnson County has its own miasma of Tea Partyism, its very own Marco Rubio.

I hope Cardella gets crushed.

Cardella, while at the vanguard of the campaign for a special election, is the ostensible citizen advocate. In her drive to represent the “VOICE of the people,” as she claims on her website, she simultaneously supports stripping away citizen power.

Let me explain.

Democracy is premised on the notion that no citizen is above the law, nor is he or she inherently more qualified to affect the democratic process. With millions in campaign contributions, vast gulfs between the rich and poor, an educational inequities, it’s an obviously unrealized ideal.

The remedy, however, is to continue striving for a fairer, more equitable government — not undermine its very power, as Cardella and other small-government conservatives seek.

Cardella and other small-government advocates, in their drive to check supposedly tyrannical governments, concurrently weaken citizen power because they exalt the free market, rather than democratic governance. In doing so, they erode citizen power itself with their indignant questioning of democratic decision-making.

Electing an anti-government polemicist such as Cardella to be a county supervisor would be a little like having a Marxist run a Fortune 500 company — it just doesn’t make sense.

While her special-election signature drive was a win for democracy, it’s also why Cardella’s anti-government ideas are so troubling.

The incongruity is lost on her, as well as many others. With the troubling rise of the right-wing populist “tea-baggers,” it’s vital that progressives — and really, anyone concerned with citizen power — push back against these commonly accepted anti-government talking points.

While democratic governments are based on both freedom, equality, and the inherent worth of each citizen, the private sector’s lexicon is limited to questions of wages, consumption, and profitability.

Which is fine when you’re concerned with how many coffee shops Iowa City should have or how many six-packs of Fat Tire that John’s Grocery should purchase in a given month. What we should challenge, however, is the supposed infallibility, efficacy, and innate morality of the private sector.

Planning and zoning is a perfect example.

For Cardella, it’s a government usurpation.

“I am of the opinion, that the very existence of planning and zoning and the land-use plan implies that someone or thing has more control over one’s property than the private citizen,” Cardella states on her website.

For democratic governments, however, it’s a way of determining the aesthetics of a community or setting parameters businesses must abide by. Planning and zoning is why we have community areas such as the Pedestrian Mall, rather than a generic downtown.

This shouldn’t be taken as a personal diatribe against Cardella. The Solon resident is an active community member, a UI graduate, and, in my experience, a pleasant and amiable person.

But those concerned with the autonomy of citizens should reject the ideas of her and other anti-government zealots.

As legendary community organizer Saul Alinsky once wrote, “‘To lose your ‘identity’ as a citizen of democracy is but a step from losing your identity as a person.”

The election of Cardella and others like her would be a step in that direction.


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