When I waited tables at the now-defunct Bellagio in downtown St. Petersburg, I liked Charlie Crist. He seemed decent enough, never overtipped or undertipped, and truly seemed to enjoy spending time with the very fit woman by his side while they ate appetizers and had a glass (one, always one) of chardonnay on the porch. Of course, I know he, like any politician, campaigned every moment he spent awake, so I’m not trying to paint him as a regular guy who happened to wonder what I thought of local issues. But he was nice. A politician, but as far as that class of people goes, nice. Intelligent, despite what some media outlets may indicate when they suggest he doesn’t understand the finer points of certain policies. It did not at all hurt that the man apparently spent a lot of time grooming, which I, of couse, do not but will not fault him for. He was easy to look at, that’s all I’m saying. Nice, intelligent, good abs… isn’t that what every political party wants as a front man? Wasn’t that the rationale for adding Dan Quayle to the presidential ticket at the start of the Bush dynasty? OK, so they missed the “intelligent” part with Quayle, but maybe the ‘pubs have gotten the idea by now.
Anyway, before I give anyone the idea I would vote for or against a president based on his six pack (although, really, would that be any less intelligent than some of our previous choices and rationales as voters?), let me explain why Crist has, so early on in his reign, won my favor. It is, of course, way too early to consider 2012. Let’s get through 2008, please. PLEASE. I’m just saying… I can see it: President Crist.
I freely admit this could, just maybe, possibly be getting a step ahead of myself. But still… he’s taken a stand. Against bullshit government.
In a word, MAA. Man Against Acronyms. How about another? EOFLONJC (Elected Official Favoring Language Of Non-Jargony Context).
Does Crist jump into office vowing to restore the Everglades? Does he get his feet wet by vowing to create an economy not dependant on tourism? Does he reassure his constituents by tackling property taxes or insurance issues? No, he does not. Many could fault him for that; I do not. PT Barnum would do all those things, make a great show of promising miracles. Other politicians who subscribe to the Ringling Brothers School of Public Service would also jump on any or all of those bandwagons.
They would fail. Perhaps not completely, but they would fail. I mean, really, tackling a multi-billion dollar statewide financial crisis in the making before you’ve even got your socks put away in the governor’s mansion? Greedy representatives have, jointly, spent years beating down the common landholder in Florida; it’s going to take just as many years to fix the damage. So to make that broad assertion to reassure the public would be something akin to smoke and mirrors. No, Crist has tackled something much better:
He’s right, and what he doesn’t say outright is this: bureaucrats, so insecure about their own level of competence and intelligence (they’re not all incompetent idiots, I know at least three very fine public servants), use the industry jargon as a shield, a way to wield power over and intimidate the very people they are supposed to serve. Government jargon is a layer of insulation against the public finding out who really mucked something up.
I spent five years translating engineering speak and bureaucratic language into documents an 8th grader could understand (and a Florida 8th grader at that!), and in that time I found not one concept improved by jargon. I now regularly wade through public records to get details for articles, and every week I have to translate the Gulfport City Manager’s report into information people want to read. As far as agencies go, Gulfport isn’t too bad, but vestiges of employees who have spent years serving other cities remain in the Manager’s reports.
Here’s the key to plain language, Governor: eliminate passive voice and make your state take accountability for things.
“The new rule requires that a time limit be put on negotiations.” (From the December 30 Gulfport City Manager’s Report)
Who requires it? You have to slog even further through to find out, by which point your eyes have glazed over and you have spittle collecting and crusting around the corner of your mouth.
So just say:
“The FCC says the negiotiations can’t take longer than x days.”
“The FCC will start limiting the amount of time cities and cable companies can negotiate.”
See, once people KNOW who the players are, they know who to blame. Which, I believe, lies at the heart of many government documents: no one wants to make anyone accountable. Eliminate the jargon and you can let people know where to find the villains.
“Make government accessible to people.” How many times have we heard THAT phrase? Clinton reshaped the IRS, made it “a kinder, gentler” agency. Then we elected the black hole who now serves as president, and, well, seems like everything about making government about the people it governs went straight to hell (no offense, Boy King).
But Crist has started constructing an inroad to understanding what the hell our government does. And here’s a little secret: once people find out, they may find they can negotiate property insurance and the like with less help from the government. They may stop cursing Citizen’s for the high rate when they can see the government docs that stipulate Citizens MUST charge higher rates than private insurers. Then they can get mad at their representative instead of his insurance-peddling minions.
There’s a wealth of information available behind the cloak of PolitiSpeak. Crist says, indirectly, he wants people to be able to access it.
Wild ideas, Mr. Governor. Tread lightly, or you just might get a reputation as a man for the people.
Ah, yes… President Crist.
Of course, I still want to see what he does about the Everglades. But barring him giving Big Sugar even MORE tax breaks and selling the cypress for timber, I don’t think he can muck it up. And if he does, thanks to his affinity for easily understood government documents, we’ll know.
I wonder if he knows who Skink is?