Sounds of Solons


This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the next year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This week’s topic is “Your elected leaders.”

My brother is running for city council.

I mean, really, it would be pretty tough for me to write a post about elected leaders without mentioning that fact, wouldn’t it? Arguably a little lacking in the “full disclosure” department.

It’s been interesting for me because, to be honest, my level of knowledge about local politics is pretty minimal. I have some small amount of knowledge that was unavoidable, but, unlike the rest of my family, I just have no passion for it. I’m very much the Billy Carter/Roger Clinton of the Hitt clan, I’m afraid.

In my defense, however, I come by it honestly. That wasn’t always the case. A decade ago, I knew far more about local politics than I do now. Heck, a decade ago, I knew more about local politics than most of the local elected leaders.

During my newspaper days, it was my job to know. In a series of small towns in Mississippi, I got to know the local politicians, got to know the system, got to know the community. I not only knew how things worked, I knew why.

And that’s exactly the problem today. I grew up no different from my brothers, very much interested in politics, and even minored in political science in college.

But through my work in newspapers, I got a very different sort of political education. Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once famously said that all politics is local, but I would go one step further. All politics is personal.

I understood politics in the communities I covered because I knew the people involved. Well. I knew where they lived. I knew where they’d worked. I knew who their families were. I knew who supported them financially, and who those people’s families were. And I knew how all of those things came together to define how the political system in the community worked.

Trying to follow local politics now is like listening to Beethoven on a xylophone. The basic information is there, but so stripped down of its full richness as to make it no longer the same thing. I can read in The Huntsville Times about the city council, but I don’t understand in the same way. I don’t know these people. I don’t know why they really do what they do. I don’t know who they are beholden to, and what those people’s interests are. And as a result, anything I read seems so superficial as to be pointless.

But now, there’s a chance that, depending on how things go in August, politics becomes personal again.

Could be interesting.

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