We are so starved in this country for leaders who "get it" that even a snippet of rational thought can make someone an overnight sensation. Currently in the spotlight is the chief of police in Dallas, David Brown.
In his six years as chief Brown has presided over a dramatic change in the way the department works:
And in the current, terrible situation -- after four of Brown's officers were shot and killed, along with another local officer, while eight others were injured -- Brown has responded impressively. During a press conference Monday, he made this astute observation that applies well beyond the city limits of Dallas:
"What we're doing, what we're trying to accomplish here is above challenging. It is -- we're asking cops to do too much in this country. We are. We're just asking us to do too much. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding. Let the cop handle it. Not enough drug addiction funding. Let's give it to the cops. Here in Dallas, we've got a loose dog problem. Let's have the cops chase loose dogs. You know, schools fail. Give it to the cops. Seventy percent of the African-American community is being raised by single women. Let's give it to the cops to solve that, as well. That's too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all of those problems. I just ask for other parts of our democracy, along with the free press, to help us. To help us and not put that burden all on law enforcement to resolve."
I hear that, and an involuntary thought pops up: Let's get him to run for president! Or some kind of office. Because he sounds like someone who understands the why behind the what we are watching play out in real time, namely the breaking down of society and inadequacy of our institutions. There's nothing truly political in that, nothing that people on either side of the aisle ought to find objectionable; nothing but a common-sense observation born of three-plus decades of service to his community. You might add to his diagnosis -- and I'm not suggesting he intended that statement to be exhaustive -- but I dare say you can't subtract from it.
And if David Brown wanted to run for an office, and if I could vote for him, I might just do that. Maybe we'd disagree about the means of solving those problems, but he sounds like the kind of man who'd be practical about that. Most of all, he sounds like the kind of man who doesn't play games about the nature of our problems, which in itself is rather refreshing in this country.
But then a less reflexive thought takes over: Why should it take a man like David Brown leaving a job he does well, and running for elected office, for us to have elected officials who understand the problems and are willing to do what it takes to solve them? Why don't our current elected officials listen to men like David Brown -- whom they hired, after all -- and respond to what he says based on his expertise built on experience?
Maybe the elected officials in Dallas do; I'm not familiar with that city's politics, although Brown's comments about the undue tasks placed on cops make me think he hasn't been totally heard there. But I know there are plenty of other cities and states where their own David Browns are saying similar things and not being heeded, or else we wouldn't see the problems we see.
Instead, here's what we get. From the left, generally vague calls to spend more money without specifics about what the money would do and how it'd make an impact. (Example: Just put more money into schools, and the problems with schools will somehow go away.) And that extra spending? Don't try to offset it with cuts elsewhere, because that would look far too much like an act of setting priorities. All of which lets the right off easy: Just say there's plenty of waste to be cut, and taxes are already too high, and you can get by without articulating an actual solution to the problems at hand.
And round and round we go.
It doesn't always happen this way. SPLOSTs are a good example of government outlining a series of problems and solutions, and the means of accomplishing those, usually winning voters' approval. (To the extent there's a problem with SPLOSTs, it's that they let local governments skate by without justifying much of their existing spending.) Or take the transportation funding bill which Georgia's legislators passed last year, which succeeded because legislative leaders made a persuasive case that our problems had surpassed our ability to solve with existing revenues.
But too often, and particularly in Washington, we don't see that kind of process at work. We hear calls for gun-control measures that can't reasonably be expected to have an effect on gun violence. We hear calls for more spending on health care or education, with little to no evidence that existing spending is producing results. We simply don't hear debate about some of the issues Brown outlined, especially the one about mental health.
All of this has a certain "Waiting for 'Superman'" ring to it. That was the title of a movie about public schools, and the false notion that they could be fixed if only the right superhuman leader would come along. That's not how it works in real life. In real life, that's how you end up in the sorry state we find ourselves in.
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution