Mayor Sheila Dixon et al. and the Baltimore City Stealth Raise: Rhetorical NotaClueism — Part II

–Richard E. Vatz

Following cascading criticism born from her defending a decision to take a raise in this economically disastrous time (see post below), Mayor Dixon reversed her decision (for this year’s raise money — the raise accrues to her base) and said, “You sleep on things; you think about it; you hear what the public has to say…I woke up this morning and thought, ‘It’s not worth it. ‘ “

It’s not worth all of the pressure? Why not say: “I shouldn’t have done it. What I callously said and did was understandably offensive to — and ignored the lot of — those I serve. I shall not make this mistake again, and all raises in the future will be utterly transparent to the public.”

That is what all of those who received the Baltimore City Stealth Raise should have said.

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Professor Vatz is professor of rhetoric and communication at Towson University

Mayor Sheila Dixon: Rhetorical NotaClueism
–Richard E. Vatz

There is little a rhetorician can add to the excellent extant political analysis on WBAL and in The Baltimore Sun regarding Mayor Sheila Dixon’s decision to keep her $3,700 pay raise at a time of many of her constituents’ recession-induced penury. Rhetorically, however, there are some observations that are necessary to state.

The Mayor certainly has a history of ethically questionable decisions, from furs to her sister’s employment, all of which cause her little trouble in a one-party hear-no-evil, see-no-evil town. But her rhetoric, never very sophisticated since there is little need to mystify audiences when they are not prone to demand propriety, in the current case may be sufficiently ham-handed to lose her an election down the road.

Her defense for taking the terribly-timed raise this year, as opposed to giving it to charity even as a one-time concession, is as follows: “To be honest with you, no, 2 and ½ percent, based on what I do seven days a week, 24 hours [a day], trying to raise a family, a daughter in college.” More self-pityingly and aggressively, she stated that “Not doing what I do seven days a week, 24 hours a day, trying to raise a family and having a daughter in college…people don’t expect us to get paid. They want us do to this for free. That’s fine and good and no one would mind doing that, but then we would have to find other jobs.”

Her “Let them eat cake” (apocryphal quote attributed to Marie-Antoinette in the 18th century regarding the starving of the French) condescension, echoed by some others in Baltimore’s City Council, is the type of self-important, self-obsessed rhetoric that most politicians circa early 21st century know to avoid.

One wonders how any politician in a major American city could not have learned that making over $150,000 and poormouthing one’s own circumstances will strike nearly everyone who is struggling in a terrible economy as outrageously arrogant and contemptible.

Successful politicians learn early in their careers how to disingenuously claim that they “feel your pain.” It is the rare politician who becomes mayor of a city the size of Baltimore who hasn’t a clue how to at least pretend in all situations that his or her priority is his or her constituency.

Politicians without a rhetorical clue come a cropper. Just ask Governor Rod Blagojevich. Even in a one-party environment there is a price to pay for rhetorical self-indulgence when combined with a zero-sum game financial relationship with one’s constituents.

Professor Vatz is professor of rhetoric and communication at Towson University

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