RICHMOND, Va. — Based on what we know about public opinion, about the only thing more unpopular WITH YOU, THE RICHMOND METRO PUBLIC, than America getting into a war with Syria is building a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom.
That’s right, take out the partisans who don’t believe their opinion is ever wrong, and the truth is hardly anyone using neutral judgment appears to believe either a downtown baseball stadium or bombing downtown Damascus is in the local or national interest.
There was a time when YOUR VIEW on such matters actually mattered. There was a time when YOU, allegedly the sovereigns in a democracy, actually had some sway on such local or international matters.
But not here in 2013 at least yet.
The Mayor wants a Shockoe Stadium, and is cleverly laying the groundwork. The President wants to go to war in Syria and is working 24/7 to get congressional approval. YOU HAVE BIG DOUBTS. But so far, small influence.
I confess, whether a baseball stadium is right for Shockoe Bottom, whether retaliating militarily against Syria with an act of war, are questions without simple answers.
Indeed, there is no 100 percent right or wrong answer.
Or put another way, In the final analysis, these are questions requiring leaders to make a judgment, asking us to “trust them” in the final analysis.
However, implicit in any “representative democracy” system like ours is the recognition that public opinion has a special role to play although not the final one. When the people overwhelmingly express doubts on matters likely to have profound effects on the future of their community or country, then YOUR VIEW MUST BE CONSIDERED MOST SERIOUSLY.
If we go to war against Syria, in violation of international law, the potential negative effects for America far, far outweigh any claimed positive results by pro-war advocates.
If we build a downtown baseball stadium and it turns out to be the same false, hyped promise as has happened in almost all the other such situations studied around the country by neutral experts, then the potential mess will have potentially very negative results for Richmond far into the future.
In an ideal world, local and national leaders would be all-wise, their decisions always made strictly on a neutral analysis of the evidence, their judgments never clouded by things human. But such is not the case.
On an historic basis, these two circumstances – baseball and bombing – would be greatly influenced by public opinion in terms of the response by the people’s elected officials.
For example, even though the lottery is wildly popular, state politicians insisted on the public first approving it in an statewide referendum.
Because having legalized gambling would be a fundamental change in the state’s culture. So they wanted to be sure it is really what the people wanted since it would inevitably lead to other gambling such as horse racing, possibly casinos in the future.
The point being, sometimes the right move is for leaders to “trust the people,” to realize there is a “red line” alright, but one that involves not crossing public opinion.
Bottom line: Putting a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom permanently and forever changes the future of Richmond in a way few other governmental decisions will potentially do. Starting a hot war with Syria – when no American soldier or civilian has been attacked and the Syrian government has not taken up arms directly or indirectly against us – will forever change America’s moral posture in the world community since it will be the first time we have ever knowingly violated international law.
Naturally baseball in Richmond is not equitable in any substantive or similar level to bombing in Syria, we all know that without having to go to school.
But at the same time, a moment’s reflection tells us that they both represent an interesting question for a representative democracy applying to things local and international. What should be the role of public opinion when the people are adamant in one direction but powerful political and economic interests disagree?
The president is going to make his case tomorrow night in a national televised speech. I want to hear from my Commander-in-Chief before deciding.
He deserves that much. At the same time, once the pro-war side has made its case, then my views, and those of my fellow Americans and Virginians and metro-Richmonders likewise deserve to be seriously considered.
The same when it comes to whether or not to risk Richmond’s future with a downtown baseball stadium. I am not saying the people are always right, but in recent years the public has been far more right than the politicians on these kinds of issues.
Paul Goldman is in no way affiliated with WTVR. His comments are his own, and do not reflect the views of WTVR or any related entity. Neither WTVR nor any of its employees or agents participated in any way with the preparation of Mr. Goldman’s comments.