Get ready for one of the more delicious moments in American politics: the creation of an elegant, double-barreled neologism, in this case a new verb which describes actions with which we are all familiar, and for which we have no colorfully descriptive term.
Here’s the new verb: blue-ribbon. (Trust me, it really isn’t just an adjective any more — just notice the hyphen.)
It was first mentioned — to me, at least — by Denver lobbyist Eric Anderson, who attributes its first use to Gov. Bill Ritter’s chief of staff, Evan Dreyer.
According to Anderson, Dreyer referred in passing to an issue by saying “we’ve blue-ribboned it.”
He meant, Anderson continued, that the governor had created a “blue ribbon commission” of experts, stakeholders and wise men/women to hold hearings, debate the issue endlessly and eventually produce a weighty report, full of equally weighty recommendations.
Our governor, who is even more process-oriented than Hillary Clinton, is a blue-ribboner par excellence. He’s blue-ribboned energy, transportation and health care so far, and we can be sure that there’s more blue-ribboning to come.
And as all politicians know instinctively, blue-ribboning is a flawless way to avoid dealing with issues while appearing to do something.
You appoint your commission — and your appointees are all pleased to participate in something so prestigious.
You thereby reward your allies and placate your foes — after all, you have to have a balanced group.
Then the commissioners hold hearings — long, boring and painful hearings, where interest groups, local politicians, political junkies and cranks bloviate endlessly.
On the surface, nothing is accomplished — but wait!
You’ve deflected the wrath of interest groups from you to the commission, leaving you free to govern or play golf. The commissioners don’t do much, other than sit at a dais and pretend to listen to the earnest testimony of interested residents.
The actual work is done by the staff — smart, capable young ’uns, who produce the commission’s final report.
In a suitably solemn ceremony you accept the report, thank all involved and then implement the recommendations with which you agree and ignore the rest. You characterize your actions as bowing to the expressed will of the people, and move on.
Oh, there might be some dissident commissioners, or some disgruntled residents, but by now everybody’s sick of the issue and ready to engage the next one. That moment could, I guess, be described as “tying a blue ribbon around it!”
And what about powerful, decisive governing? Why can’t the governor just establish his policy and implement it? Isn’t that what real leaders do?
Maybe, but as Anderson pointed out, it just doesn’t work.
Look at the uproar from friend and foe alike when the guv announced that public employees would henceforth have the right to bargain collectively. The Republicans went berserk (the recent story about drunken elephants rampaging in India comes to mind), the business community came unglued and even the usually supportive Denver Post ran a front page editorial comparing the governor to Jimmy Hoffa.
Had Ritter simply blue-ribboned the issue, he would have avoided all the trouble. If the ribbonees had nixed the idea, he could have forgotten about it without political consequence. And had they given it their blessing, he could have implemented it with impunity.
Which of our presidential candidates would be blue-ribboners, should they ascend to the highest office in the land?
We can count on Hillary to blue-ribbon every conceivable issue and Mitt Romney to be right behind her.
Barack Obama and Fred Thompson would blue-ribbon, but not to excess.
And as for Rudy Giuliani and John McCain — they’d take the George W. path, which he so aptly summarized by saying “I’m the decider!”
Meanwhile, although Thanksgiving’s over, there’s a lot to be thankful for in this community.
I’m thankful for all of the community groups, large and small, that instead of complaining about problems do their best to fix them. You might, for example, have seen the billboards around town that read “Please, do not litter.”
The billboards were paid for by “Dames & Dogs,” a dozen or so women who walk their dogs in North Cheyenne Canyon. Dismayed by the amount of litter, the dames started to bring trash bags on their daily walks and to pick up the junk. They started this spring — and so far, they’ve picked up more than 500 bags of litter.
The idea has spread, and other walking groups have begun to bring trash bags on their excursions. The billboards are there thanks to the dames, and thanks to the civic-minded generosity of Hal Ward at Lamar Outdoor Advertising, who offers nonprofit organizations sharply reduced rates when billboards become available.
As Sue Mulvihill, one of the dames, pointed out in a recent letter, “While we always appreciate those who pick it up, we’d like to make it unnecessary … The last national anti-litter campaign was in the ’70s, and cash-strapped communities now can’t afford to pay for maintenance staff. We hope to make a slight difference.”
This city’s history is in many ways the history of groups like the dames, who step up quietly and do what needs to be done.
There are dozens — hundreds — of such groups, and every one of them would be delighted if you picked up the phone and volunteered to help. And if you see a problem that you’d like to fix, just do what the dames have done: get to work and do what you can.
And give us yet another set of reasons to be thankful that we live in Colorado Springs.
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.