Last week I was working on a followup to my recent column advising Drew Carey and his L.A. libertarian buddies what they could do with their web series "Reason Saves Cleveland." The response from readers was swift and overwhelmingly negative, and I planned to respond in kind. Then, just before deadline, this arrived:
I must say I was somewhat dismayed that you decided to turn your disagreements with the content of the Reason.tv videos I appeared in (Reason Saves Cleveland) into such a personal attack against me. I want to assure you, though, that despite being told "Screw You" in a headline and "shut the hell up," I hold no grudge or animosity towards yourself or anyone else there at the Scene. Seriously, no hard feelings. It's important to me that you know that. Believe me, I heard much worse from fans of The Price Is Right after I took over for Bob Barker. Much, much worse.
That said, I'm sure that the chip on your shoulder wouldn't have been such a plank had you known the following facts about me.
Not only was I born and raised in Cleveland, but I still own the house that I grew up in. That's right, I'm a homeowner in the city of Cleveland. I also pay property taxes on that home, utility bills, upkeep, you name it. In fact, between me and my family, someone named Carey has been paying taxes on that property for over half a century. And as a homeowner and taxpayer, I have every right to speak up about what goes on here. Further, my entire professional life has been tied to my love of Cleveland. So between all that I have a lot of skin in the game, you know?
And even if I didn't still own a house in Cleveland and pay taxes on it, the day I stop caring about my city will be the day I die. I'm 216 to the bone, man. I've always loved Cleveland. Always have, always will. Nothing makes me prouder than being from Cleveland. I just want things to be better than they are right now and was trying to help. If that makes you sad, well then, I don't know what to tell you. Prepare for a life of sadness, I guess.
Blessings to you and your family, and much success with your life and the Cleveland Scene. May every nightclub in Cleveland buy an ad.
I forwarded Carey's letter to my father, a former journalist and current libertarian. "That's a really nice e-mail," Dad wrote back. "I hope that in replying, you felt a least a little guilty about the attack."
Only a little. And not for reasons related to the substance of my complaint.
In hindsight, I see one mistake: I did not give Carey enough credit for sincerity. I've never doubted that he still cares deeply about Cleveland, and that he participated in the "Reason Saves Cleveland" project with the best of intentions. Nor did I make it clear that I respect that. But I didn't question his motives, only his judgment.
Full disclosure: I'm a progressive — or liberal, if you like — and not likely to see eye to eye with libertarians on economic issues. I'm also from Philadelphia, where hostility is a reflex. So when I first heard about the "Reason Saves Cleveland" series in a report on WCPN, my reaction was, "Who the hell does he think he is?"
I watched the videos anyway. More than once, and with an open mind. (Dad's influence: Debate vigorously, but always allow for the possibility that you're wrong.) Sadly, however, I came away more angry.
Not because Reason presented libertarian views — that's its mission, I get that — but because it did so in such a disingenuous and cavalier way. Supporters of Reason's proposed solutions are interviewed at length — in the segment on privatization, for example, one of the key voices is that of a lawyer who represents businesses seeking privatization opportunities.
That's not an attempt at discourse. That's an infomercial. Say what you will about Michael Moore, he is upfront about his agenda and does not ignore opposing points of view — indeed, stalking sacred cows with a knife and fork is the heart of his shtick.
The privatization segment also lauds Chicago's experiment with privatizing parking meters. Never once does it indicate how wildly controversial the deal has been (visit chicagoreader.com to read that paper's 2009 three-part investigation into the secrecy of the rushed process and the lawsuits that resulted) or the likelihood that it's going to result in skyrocketing meter rates. Overlooking all of that in order to push privatization as one possible cure for what ails Cleveland is not just intellectually dishonest, it's insulting. The other segments — even the one I generally agreed with, about big-ticket development deals on the public's dime — are equally lopsided.
Many of those who responded to my column noted that they didn't see me proposing solutions to Cleveland's most serious problems. That's exactly my point: There are no simple solutions. And remember, it's not me who set the bar high, it's the folks at Reason, who promised to "save" us but ultimately offered only self-serving rhetoric.
So surely Drew and the folks at Reason won't mind if I offer some of my own. Stripped of the earnest veneer, the underlying message of the video series is this: "Give up, Cleveland. Stop trying to govern yourselves, because you clearly aren't smart enough. Turn over as much as you can to the private sector, and trust it to deliver better service at lower cost than those unionized civil servants. Sure, businesses have been abandoning you for decades, and the resulting job loss is at the root of all of your problems. But if you promise to change, some of them just might come back."
Some embrace this pitch (see letter below). Forgive my Cleveland pride, but screw that.
But hey, Drew, no hard feelings. Seriously. You're a classy guy, and it'd be my pleasure to buy you a beer next time you're in town. I won't even try to convince you to stop palling around with people who think so little of your hometown. OK, maybe a little.
The Rotting City You've Created
It occurred to me as soon as I heard Drew Carey was taking time to try and educate Clevelanders about the superiority of free markets. Oh shit, I told friends, just wait until the leftist mouthpieces of the Cleveland media get a hold of this one! But wait: would they really do a hatchet job on one of the few beloved, famous Clevelanders left alive? One who escaped this backward, quasi-socialist hellhole to build a successful career for himself, just as he’s trying to help the people still stuck there? Are the propagandists at Scene and Plain Dealer really that bloodthirsty? That blinded by ideology?
Of course you are. I should never have doubted you. So Scene, stick with your bigger government, bigger unions, anti-school choice, anti-business agenda. It’s obviously worked so well for the poor people of Cleveland over the past 40 years.
It’s forced private enterprise to flee our ruthless taxation and despicable Democratic corruption. And as the businesses and entrepreneurs have left for locales more hospitable to profits and success, they’ve taken all the jobs with them. But you don’t understand that, do you?
Drew does, but when he tries to make his case to the people, you shit all over him.
Just keep your feet pressed down on the throats of Cleveland’s urban poor, who, thanks to you, will never have a chance at a decent education or a high-paying professional career. As long as you sustain Cleveland’s national reputation as a left-wing cesspool that’s hostile to capitalism, the decades-old cycle of decline and deterioration will keep grinding on. And you’ll sit there at your keyboards, pounding out missives against corporate greed. Hysterical, yet profoundly sad. You deserve to wallow in the rotting city you’ve created. Fuck you, Scene.