Two of the most abused words in the American lexicon are “small government.” Everyone is in favor of it – or at least claims to be. It’s a time-honored rallying cry of the Republican Party and Democrats will at least feint in that direction when it’s politically necessary or expedient. For a disaffected and angry electorate, they are immensely appealing words, alluringly full of empty promise and backed by bumper sticker rhetoric. In particular, the embittered white base that grudgingly backed Romney in the last election has adopted these words as dogma. But does anybody really want smaller government? All evidence points to the contrary.
Democrat and Republican alike have been quick to expand government – both in terms of the tax dollars it gobbles up and the infringement upon our liberty it imposes – with flagrant disregard for their own rhetoric. While Democrats screamed and cursed and spat about the Bush administration’s overreaching and at times downright unconstitutional notion of national security, they have been conspicuously silent as Obama’s beloved drones patrol the skies, conducting summary executions around the globe – including at least one on an American citizen – and the veil of government secrecy remains as thick and opaque as it did during the Bush years. Republicans, for their part, continuously decry the “reckless spending” of Democrats while practically putting on a clinic in fiscal irresponsibility, and their extremely selective memories allow them to place unpopular government bailouts firmly in Obama’s column, while conveniently ignoring the fact that they began with his predecessor.
The underlying and more insidious deception of the small government gospel, however, is that nobody really wants it yet they still preach it. What people really mean when they say they want “small government” is that they want government that does only and …
I just returned from a trip to New York City, an experience that is always equal parts invigorating and overwhelming. On the one hand, it’s great to be in a city where there is always something happening. On the other hand, being in a city where everything is always happening can discourage as easily as it excites.
As much as we like to fancy ourselves a cosmopolitan place that can hold its own with any city – and to a large extent that’s true; Providence is quite good at punching above its weight class – a few days in New York can be a harsh reminder that in many ways, size matters. When we speak of size, the important measurement is population, not land area. North Dakota’s largest city, Fargo, boasts more than twice the land area of Providence, but can only muster about 60% of our population. Where would you rather live?
Even in comparison to cities that are bigger on both counts, Providence holds its own. Jacksonville, Florida has a population more than four-and-a-half times the size of ours, and its roughly 875 square miles dwarf our 20. But you don’t see the birthplace of Lynyrd Skynyrd ranking among Travel + Leisure magazine’s “America’s Favorite Cities,” a survey in which the Renaissance City routinely comes out ahead of much larger competition.
A visit to New York, however, can be humbling even for our city’s biggest booster. Obviously, sizing up our little corner of New England against the country’s largest city is hardly a fair comparison, but it can make the limitations of a small population painfully obvious. While Providence may have all the bases covered when it comes to the joys of urban living, we’ll never match the depth and breadth of a big city. Sure, I can get Vietnamese food delivered to my house, but in Manhatan I could have Vietnamese food delivered by 30 different places, several of which would deliver until 4am and bring pot. The sheer scope of the place …
it is often said – usually by salespeople – that everything is sales. No matter your profession, no matter your role, it all comes down to sales – not in the literal sense of an actual transaction of goods or services for money, but in the sense of getting people to buy into you, your ideas, your mission. There’s something to that line of thinking, but I prefer to go one step further and say that everything is storytelling. Whether you’re a salesperson trying to close a deal, a doctor prescribing treatment, a marketing professional devising a PR campaign, a politician pushing for legislation, or even just a job seeker trying to nail an interview, you’re telling someone a story. Your success hinges on getting your audience interested and invested in your story, and that requires an effective, engaging and coherent narrative.
I talk about Providence with a lot of people – and typically even more in the several weeks I spend putting together our annual 10 to Watch list. We talk about the city, what’s happening in it, what assets it has, what it lacks, what it can and should be, etc. One common theme that emerges in so many of those conversations is storytelling: Providence has a story, but what is it, and are we telling it effectively?
These are important questions to ask, because a good story can have a profound impact on a place. We need look no further than our city’s own ‘90s Renaissance to prove this point. People remain divided on Buddy Cianci – whether he was good or bad for the city; how much credit, if any, he deserves for its revival; and so on. I won’t claim to have the definitive answers to those questions, but I know this much is true: no one was better at telling Providence’s story than Buddy, and that is both the reason why our city was perceived as having a Renaissance and why he was perceived as the driving force behind it. The guy tells a good story. That got people …
We’ve done it again. After months of campaigning and a tumultuous political climate in which many voters claimed to be undecided, fed up and unhappy with the direction things are going, we did what reliable Rhode Island voters can always be counted on to do: reward the incumbents and strengthen the Democratic monopoly of our state offices. The next General Assembly will convene with Democrats holding 69 of 75 House seats and 32 of 38 Senate seats. Speaker Fox, tarnished by his role in the 38 Studios fiasco, retained his seat and his speakership. Congressman Cicilline has been faulted for both mismanaging city finances and misleading the public about them, yet was handily rewarded with a second term.
Of course, the Democrats aren’t entirely to blame. Their only real opposition comes from a Republican Party seemingly incapable of producing a slate of candidates worthy of election to a student council, let alone state office, and remains trapped between the rock and hard place of an increasingly extreme and intractable national party agenda and a local electorate that’s not buying what they’re selling. The fact that they could not produce a victory for a well-respected former State Police superintendent of unquestioned integrity over a weak incumbent who fought a damaging primary battle says all we need to know about their prospects – simply put, they took their best shot and came up short. We often talk of a need for a third party, but at this point we’d do well just to have a second party.
If there is one state in this country that should be capable of fielding a viable third party, it is the smallest one, with a reputation for independence and contrarianism. There is evidence of this already – admittedly small flickers of hope, but hope nonetheless. Whatever people may think of Governor Chafee, it is significant that we elected someone without party affiliation to our highest state office. On the East Side, a grassroots independent with no …
Now that the votes have been cast and counted, and the president has handily won a second term, the long and convoluted process of dissecting this election will begin. The data wonks will begin combing through demographics and vote tallies searching for hard numbers to chart Obama’s path to victory. The pundits will either fume or gloat, depending on their party affiliation, but either way will bloviate and prognosticate and offer post-mortems. The Obama team will give itself a well-deserved pat on the back for reassembling (most of) its 2008 coalition and once again running a formidable ground game. And, of course, the Republican Party is likely to assemble quickly and noisily into a circular firing squad.
There will be many attempts by various right-wing factions to explain Romney’s loss. The more pragmatic among them will mix undeniable truths (Obama’s undoubtedly superior get-out-the-vote machine, the failure of Republicans to court a wider swath of the growing Latino population) with unanswerable questions (Should so-called “Moderate Mitt” have emerged sooner? Did having Romney sidelined during Sandy drain his momentum?). The more rabidly ideological base will find any which way to spin this into a reaffirmation of their impenetrable world views, rattling off arguments ranging from tin-eared and out-of-touch (they lost because Romney was never a true conservative) to downright insane (Obama was manipulating the jobs numbers; the Democrats control the weather and unleashed Superstorm Sandy to turn the election).
And while the Republicans have their firing squad, the Democrats will have their circle jerk. Liberal strategists, pundits and supporters will weave the admittedly numerous strands of good news into a warm, fuzzy security blanket to keep out the cold, hard facts of a divided country that just barely skewed left this time. They will claim a mandate, a decisive refutation of the conservative agenda, despite a slim …
A funny thing happened in Providence on Columbus Day. The fifth annual PRONK! Providence Honk Fest kicked off in India Point Park. It’s a daylong gathering of street and marching bands, a truly grassroots event that came to Providence after the original Honk Fest was founded in Boston. What struck me as funny was its simplicity: you just show up.
Granted, a substantial effort goes into organizing this thing – people volunteer their time, money is raised to cover transportation for bands from all over the county, visiting musicians are housed in guest rooms and on couches of local participants, organizations like the Providence Tourism Council and the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts pitch in – but the experience for the end user, the person attending the festival, is refreshingly simple and low impact: you just show up. There’s no ticket to buy, no list to be on, no cover charge to pay. And when you do arrive, there are no food vendors charging pumped-up prices for mediocre food, no bar where you need to show ID or buy drink tickets, no merch vendors hawking t-shirts or posters. There are no lines to wait in, no rules to follow (other than the everyday rules of a civil society, of course), nothing to do except enjoy the music and have a good time. It sounds simple, but how many examples of that kind of streamlined, low impact fun can you bring to mind?
Another great example of this simplicity is Project Night Vision, something that I’ll call an after after school program. It’s an intramural sports and activity program for children and teens in underserved communities – basically, it’s a way to keep kids off the street who might not otherwise have somewhere to go and something to do. Again, a tremendous amount of (unpaid) time and effort on the part of dedicated volunteers led by founder Kobi Dennis goes into making Project Night Vision happen. But again, the beauty is the low bar to entry and thelow impact …
“What do you do that no one else does?”
Food writer/TV personality Anthony Bourdain spoke at Johnson & Wales a couple years back, and that was his response when an eager young culinary student asked if and when he would be taping an episode of his foodie travelogue, No Reservations, in Providence. She had no good answer, and he dismissed her with a simple, “Maybe in season 14.”
Season 9, which is to be the final installment, is airing now. Still no episode in Providence.
It was a fair point on Bourdain’s part. The centerpiece of this month's print issue is our annual look at the local food scene, and this year, instead of telling you what we think of it, we’re letting chefs tell you, in their own words. This is because we thought you would be interested in what they have to say, but also because we’re interested too. We want to know where and what they like to eat and, perhaps more importantly, we want their perspective on the state of food and dining in Providence. We’re hoping that they can start to formulate an answer to Mr. Bourdain’s question.
It’s not as if we need to invent some radically new kind of dining in order to be worthy of a TV show – other food shows, including Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and Man v. Food, have visited – but rather, if Providence is truly going to fulfill its potential as a national dining destination, we need to start to construct our own narrative. New Orleans has its Cajun and Creole cuisines. Memphis is a BBQ town. Chicago has established itself as one of America’s most forward-thinking food cities. Portland, Oregon, one of Providence’s closest analogues, has made a name for itself as a farm-to-table Mecca.
So what do we do that no one else does?
Providence, as a dining destination, is currently in that odd position of being both underrated and overrated at the same time. Sure, we get some national accolades – we …
Time magazine correspondent Michael Grunwald is the author of The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era, a new book that examines the president’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aka the stimulus package. In an insightful interview with Slate.com, he discusses the difference between the White House’s nuanced, deliberative attempts to promote the bill to the American public, and the Republican response: “The Republican message was much simpler: No.”
Later, he talks about the current Republican nominee’s approach: “There’s a reason most of Romney’s ads feature the stimulus... He’s running against the idea that government can produce positive change.”
This is a nice illustration of the pervasive sickness infecting the conservative movement, or at least what passes for it these days. As many of the ideas of Reagan Era conservatism have been absorbed into the mainstream, as ideological purity has taken precedence over bipartisan pragmatism, as the extremes of the American right have gained more traction, dragging the center toward them, conservatism has taken on a distinctly nihilistic edge. This manifested in various ways throughout the Republican primaries: the dunderheaded, bumper sticker bravado of Rick Perry; the boldly intellectual yet cravenly opportunistic bluster of Newt Gingrich; the frothing radicalism of Michele Bachmann; the appealing vapidity and corporate festishism of Herman Cain – all are symptoms of a disease that corrodes the party’s very soul. And, of course, so too is the resulting candidacy of Mitt Romney, a campaign that has from the beginning attempted to sell its very emptiness as vision. This shape-shifting, weak-kneed, disingenuous, philosophically bereft cipher has taken pains to avoid specifics or sticky definitions. In fact, there is only one thing he has been willing to be, one identity he has been willing to fully inhabit at all times …
Recently, I was taking a class up in Boston that required me to spend a bit of time every Monday night in the North End. What struck me every time was not so much the wealth of great Italian food available on Hanover Street – surely Providence can give Boston a run for its money in that department, at least on quality, if not quantity – but rather how busy the streets and businesses are. On a Monday night. Sadly, there isn’t anywhere in our fair city that can boast that kind of volume that early in the week – and that was just one of many busy streets in Boston.
That contrast got me to thinking about Providence’s density problem. Simply put, there just aren’t enough people in this city. We now live in the third largest city in New England, with just about 178,000 people in Providence proper, where not too long ago we were second only to Boston. Now Worcester has a higher population. While some of you may be thinking, That’s exactly why I live in Providence: because it’s not overcrowded, I would counter that cities are supposed to be crowded. If you want room to breathe and stretch out, move to the suburbs. Cities thrive on a bustling, dense ecosystem of businesses, commercial thoroughfares, residents, visitors and workers that is surprisingly delicate. The very things that make cities such interesting, exciting places to be – whether theaters, restaurants, the arts, festivals, parks – can’t survive without enough people around to patronize them. And as with any other business, the rates of return and response are pretty low: if you want to get 10,000 people to attend a festival, you need to be drawing from a population of several hundred thousand. With developers and city leaders clamoring for more housing Downtown, stocks of unsold condos around the city, and the increasing number of boarded up houses on the West End and South Side, the city could easily support a population of 225,000, …
Red Sox Nation, it’s time we have a talk. This isn’t going to be easy, because I come to you not as one of your own, but as The Enemy: a Yankees fan, a loyal subject of the “Evil Empire.” But see, that’s part of the problem. I’m not The Enemy. I’m just a baseball fan. It’s only when you insist on viewing baseball as a cataclysmic battle between two diametrically opposed forces that I become “The Enemy.” And that, my Dustin Pedroia-loving friends is precisely the point. (For the record, I quite like Dustin Pedroia and have nothing but respect for him. Ditto for former closer Jonathan Papelbon, Trot Nixon, Gator and any number of Red Sox gamers throughout the years. That being said, Youk is kind of a douche.) A lot of you take this just a bit too seriously. It’s time to grow up and learn to enjoy baseball for the game that it is.
As I write this, your beloved Sawks are dead last in the AL East, having just been thumped 18-3 by the Texas Rangers – and at home, no less. Boston’s 4-7 start, following on the heels of last September’s epic collapse, has again turned Red Sox Nation into a circular firing squad. There’s so much finger pointing, gnashing of teeth and throwing of tantrums that the casual observer could be forgiven for thinking something important was actually at stake. The airwaves of WEEI are brimming over with hysterical emotion as caller after caller throws in his two cents worth of outrage and armchair coaching. Doomsday has been predicted, the honor and integrity of the ownership have been questioned, and first-year manager Bobby Valentine has been called a “cockaroach” (sic). It’s only April.
Part of the problem is that Red Sox Nation spent generations as a downtrodden baseball backwater, a land of disappointment, broken dreams and epic collapses where defeat was constantly being snatched from the jaws of victory. Those days are over, but …