“The less a statesman amounts to, the more he loves the flag.”
The über-late “Christian Socialist” Baptist minister Francis Bellamy once said his urge to write the Pledge of Allegiance was “born out of my own love of the flag and for all the lofty Americanism it represented.”
This, of course, was 1892, the year of the Lizzie Borden familial hatchet job, the birth of General Electric and John Muir's creation of the Sierra Club. So go figure what “lofty Americanism” meant 117 years ago—except it was the year before the stock market crash known as the “Panic of 1893.”
But today, Spin Cycle is pretty sure it means “thinking big” in a time of economic calamity. Is that happening here in San Diego? Well, you be the judge, but my hunch is we're much better at “talking” big than thinking big—and certainly much worse at “acting” big.
Now, by “acting big,” that's not to say we're not great at puffing up our shirts and boasting how forward-thinking we are. But as far as taking bold steps to demonstrate that forward-thinking-ness, the wait continues.
So, today, dear readers, let us ponder the plight of our city leaders. Faced with mounting financial pressures, the ever-amplifying calls for politicos' figurative heads and a seeming stillborn attitude toward embracing an uncertain future, our elected ones—for the most part—appear content with nipping at the edges of the coming economic conflagration.
Case in point: how the San Diego City Council conducts its business. In recent weeks, the council has debated its so-called Permanent Rules of Council, which spell out in mind-numbing detail the dos and don'ts of life for our elected legislative leaders.
Much has been said in the local mainstream press about the supposed “Odd Couple” relationship of Councilmembers Donna Frye and Carl DeMaio as co-conspirators in the fight to bring government reform and efficiency to San Diego City Hall, although the alliance shouldn't really be considered much of a surprise considering the “outsider” personalities that they both exhibit.
Their efforts, while far from complete, have appeared to grate on the nerves of new Council President Ben Hueso, who seems intent on asserting his belief that a weakened council president, particularly when setting the council's agenda, is a poor council president.
Granted, it's a fair argument in this era of strong-mayor government. But what's important to remember here is that politics is a team sport, and when the team captain hogs the ball all the time, well, something's gotta give.
So, you may ask, what's this got to do with the Pledge of Allegiance? Good question.
Back in January, when the council's painfully over-named Rules, Open Government and Intergovernmental Relations Committee set about the task of mulling changes to the Permanent Rules of Council, much of the debate focused on things like when the council president should be elected, how many council members it should take to docket an item for council discussion and how long council members and the public should be allowed to speak at council meetings.
All important issues, indeed. But during that meeting, Frye broached the subject of the Pledge of Allegiance, which according to the rules, is to be said at the start of the council's Monday meetings, followed by an invocation, a kind of spiritual blessing of the day's proceeding given typically by a religious leader.
When Frye brought up what she called “a very simple request” to allow the Pledge of Allegiance to be recited at the beginning of both Monday and Tuesday meetings, Hueso seemed caught off guard.
“You want to do that?” he said, before adding with a laugh, “But we can add it. I support that, as well.”
Hueso then asked, “Would we have an invocation on Tuesday?”
“The Pledge of Allegiance,” Frye responded.
“Just the Pledge of Allegiance,” Hueso replied, then asked, “Can we call an invocation a Pledge of Allegiance?”
“I'd like to call it the Pledge of Allegiance,” Frye answered.
Frye told Spin Cycle this week that her reason for not asking for an additional invocation on Tuesdays was because the City Clerk's office, tagged with the responsibility of rounding up spiritual folks to perform the brief service, finds it “hard enough to get someone to come in to do it once a week.”
Immediately, Spin Cycle figured this must mean that San Diego is in such a deep poophole that even our religious leaders are hard-pressed to come up with something nice to say to these political types.
But, apparently, no.
“I just remember we have had times when we have participated in trying to help the clerk get folks to come down on Mondays to do the invocation, and it's very time-consuming,” Frye said.
City Clerk Liz Maland concurred. “Well, it's complex,” she said. “There are certain requirements that we have in order to ensure that we are seeking to get a truly diverse group of individuals, and so there just are steps my office has to take to do that.”
This gets into the whole separation-of-church-and-state argument that Spin Cycle won't touch with a 20-foot cattle prod. Just understand that invocation scheduling involves months of planning, from mulling a county list of all denominations to outreach to paperwork to calls to confirm. And that's not even accounting for the responses Maland offers to those in the community who think invocations have no place at government meetings.
“I've had to work with the City Attorney's office on several occasions to come up with responses,” Maland added. “So, it's a larger issue than just scheduling, to be honest with you.”
As for the Pledge of Allegiance, Frye said that adding a Tuesday recitation represents “a courtesy to the public,” particularly to long-time council gadfly Don Stillwell, a regular Tuesday attendee.
“Frankly, I think it's fine to say the Pledge of Allegiance when you begin a meeting,” she added. “It seems reasonable.”As far as the other council reforms, time will tell if the council can be equally as reasonable. Stay tuned. Have a tip? Send it to email@example.com.