“Afterwards, you rue the fact that you’ve been so kind.”
Adolph Hitler, April 27,1945. (Last recorded remarks)
R. Crosby Kemper, III has done an outstanding job running the Kansas City Missouri Public Library. He’s overseen the upgrading of library facilities throughout the city (particularly in African- American neighborhoods, winning many friends in that community). And he’s seen to it that the collections have been brought into the digital age. Finally, Kemper has brought in a variety of guest speakers, authors of books reflecting the complete spectrum of public opinion.
In July, Kemper hosted Heywood Sanders, a professor from the University of Texas. Sanders spoke about his book, “The Convention Center Follies.” In a witty and erudite address, Sanders convincingly demonstrated that the promoters of downtown hotel and convention center projects had failed to deliver the promised results.
As in Kansas City this summer, the advocates of tax-payer subsidies to such projects subscribe to the notion of “build it and they will come.” Sanders pointed to the recent experiences of such projects in St. Louis, Chicago, Atlanta, and San Antonio, to show empirically why this is a fallacy.
Despite hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsides, all these hotel and convention center deals failed miserably. None of the projected increases in room occupancy and convention visitors had materialized as predicted. All these deals were disasters financially for the cities which had agreed to underwrite them, all based on dubious projections provided by the same three or four consultants.
If insanity is really defined as doing the same thing over and over, each time hoping for a different result, the people pushing the projects need to be checked for in for some quality time in Fulton or Ossawatomie. Of course they really don’t expect these deals to work, and why should they care as long as they collect their millions of dollars in consulting, bond underwriting, and legal fees?
Professor Sanders asked one of these consultants how many of his projections used to justify subsides from local governments on these projects actually came to pass. He claimed not to know what his track record was as far as whether they succeeded.
The KC Star was understandably upset that someone had so persuasively debunked one of their pet projects. (The folks down at the Star have taken a principled stand against special tax breaks for businesses unless the business happens to be the Kansas City Star itself or linked to the politicians the Star backs.)
They immediately sicced Steve Rose on Kemper for daring to rain on their parade.
In a monumentally adolescent piece published a few days afterwards, Rose accused RCK III of being in a rage and improperly using the library as a forum to promote his personal interests!
Hannah Arendt, the brilliant political theorist, said that a favorite tactic of totalitarians is to discredit people who dare to publicly disagree with you by attributing to them base and dishonest motives. In other words, in Arendt’s memorable phrase, you turn questions of fact into questions of motive.
Steve Rose and the other munchkins at the paper are masters of this device.
In fact, Little Stevie Wonder qualifies as a latter day Willi Muenzenberg, the chief propagandist for the Comintern (Communist International) in the 30’s. Despite his Marxist beliefs, Willi M. spent much of his time during the Spanish civil war – when he should have been running Communist propaganda efforts – partying in the south of France. He would drive from one five star restaurant to another in a series of expensive sports cars (not unlike a Rose-by-any-other-name, cruising around Mission Hills in his Porsche Cayenne).
Kemper is charged with looking out for the well-being of the public institution he is running. If he sees the tax base which supports the institution being eroded so political insiders can indulge in private gain, he should speak out. He should also allow experts to speak on the issues of the day. The Star should not be permitted to monopolize public discussion, deciding which points of view can be heard.
Anyone who has followed the programs of the KCMO Public Library knows that a wide range of views, on every conceivable topic, are presented through a dazzling array of events. (This is in striking contrast to The Star’s increasingly monochromatic hue, i.e. Code Pink.)
As silly as Steverino’s column was, it reads like Edmund Burke or Ralph Waldo Emerson next to the other Star pieces on the controversy. Dave Helling said Kemper had a lot of nerve criticizing the convention hotel proposal when he was the head of a “socialist” entity like a public library. (Helling said that libraries are not typically government functions since there are lots of private libraries open to the general public. Uh, where?)
My rejoinder is that public libraries are inherently a government function, just like police and fire protection, building and maintaining streets and roads, etc. Financing a hotel is not, thus Helling’s comment is misplaced. Also misplaced was a cheap shot from The Star, quoting a library volunteer complaining that the library was acting so quickly to update and modernize its collections that surplus books had to be disposed of rather than given a new home.
Our head librarian is a book burner!
Consider by way of contrast Rose and the Star’s portrayal of a real angry man, Johnson County Satrap for Life, Ed Eilert. In a long and inglorious career Eilert has systematically trashed the reputation of political opponents. His supporters have illegally gained access to peoples’ confidential records (e.g. the Overland Park Police Department, the KU Medical Center) in order to find damaging information against them. All this was done with Rose’s enthusiastic support because of all the legal notice publication fees that the City of Overland Park paid Rose’s Sun Newspapers. When Rose’s Democratic opponent for Mayor pointed out that The Sun didn’t have the paid circulation required by state law to publish such notices, Steve paid $50,000 of his own money to bolster Eilert’s reelection prospects, running radio ads likening Eilert to Abraham Lincoln. (I always thought he looked more like the character “Lurch” on the Addams Family than Daniel Day Lewis as Honest Abe, but no matter.)
Most recently, Steve wrote an opinion piece lauding Eilert for standing up to the “bullies” who had the temerity to oppose Eilert’s request for yet another increase in Johnson County real estate taxes. When I saw this, I thought of the county official whose wife miscarried about the time of a particularly savage attack on his competence and integrity by Rose (“He should be indicted!”). I thought of another county official who committed suicide after word leaked out that the Chief of the O.P. Police Department had run a criminal background check on a potential primary opponent of Eilert’s.
Who’s the “enraged” one, Rose or Kemper? Who are the bullies, Rose and Eilert? Or those who dare to oppose them?