“I hold it to a sign of great prudence in men to refrain alike from threats and from the use of insulting language, for neither of these things deprives the enemy of his power, but the first puts him more on his guard, while the other intensifies his hatred of you and makes him more industrious in devising means to harm you.”
— Niccolo Machiavelli
In the game of Chess, the “Fool’s Mate” is a rarely accomplished move which allows Black to achieve checkmate in the fewest number of moves possible.
The maneuver can only be pulled off if White commits an extraordinary mistake.
Not unlike the modern blood sport of politics, Chess is a game of strategy and tactics – a contest that requires the mental agility to play both sides of the board simultaneously, while maintaining the dexterity and sense of timing to take advantage of the errors of your opponent.
Often the difference between success and failure is whether or not a politician has the situational awareness and innate ability to select their platform and political battles carefully – to instinctively know which issues to associate oneself with and which conflicts would be better fought by a surrogate, etc.
Especially when locked in a pitched battle with an incredibly popular foe.
In modern politics, it seems candidates instinctively employ the oldest technique in the world early and often in their campaign – the demonization of the enemy – a tactic with the dual effect of focusing supporters against their opposition by painting them as the personification of all that’s wrong – while portraying the candidate as a savior fighting against something mean and evil.
However, the tactic can backlash quicker than a cheap fishing reel – and result in serious consequences – as it immediately limits options and, depending upon the proportionality, can have the opposite effect by making the candidate appear petty, unfair and vindictive.
Personification and demonization works best when you can associate malevolence with one person, idea or even object (consider the gun control “debate”) then dehumanizing that person or “thing” and painting them as the embodiment of all your campaign stands against.
Last week, during a radio interview with WNDB’s Marc Bernier, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood covered a lot of ground – from his thoughts on ‘pay to play’ politics and the debilitating impact of wealthy political insiders to his clearly deteriorating relationship with former sheriff and current at-large candidate, Ben Johnson.
But it was Sheriff Chitwood’s weird retort to a backhanded slight by the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys that has led to this tempest in a teapot – with Ms. Denys supporters actively demonizing him as a foul-mouthed misogynist and charter member of the “He-Man Women Haters Club.”
During an earlier appearance with Mr. Bernier, Councilwoman Denys opined that the reason the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office is having difficulty attracting quality candidates for sworn positions is because no one wants to work for Sheriff Chitwood.
Not one to absorb political slights – Sheriff Chitwood responded with a very cogent assessment of the industry-wide issue of law enforcement hiring – then went all Rick James “Super Freak” on us with the goofy observation, “All Deb Denys knows about law enforcement is the fur-lined handcuffs on her headboard.”
Salacious and provocative? Certainly.
A savage barbarism against women everywhere? Hardly.
Yet, almost immediately, Ms. Denys’ political proxies deftly initiated the “Fool’s Mate” maneuver – complete with the shock, awe and moral outrage one normally reserves for actual atrocities – you know, like public corruption, abdication of sworn responsibilities to the people who elected you, a turncoat voting record and the wholesale giveaway of our hard-earned tax dollars and public amenities to engrained political insiders. . .
(I mean, why didn’t anyone call Governor Rick Scott and demand action when County Chair Ed Kelley, Sleepy Pat Patterson – and Deb Denys – were actively destroying the personal and professional reputations of Councilwoman Heather Post and Dr. Sara Zydowizc; two brave ladies with the courage and sense of duty to protect their constituents from years of neglect and bureaucratic ineptitude in a critical government function?)
Look, it’s not my place to defend Mike Chitwood – he’s a big boy with an enormous following of supporters who find his no-hold-barred assessment of the dismal state of county government to be refreshingly free of the political correctness and the nonsensical spin that has camouflaged some grave internal wrenches in the machinery of government for a long, long time.
Like any controversial figure, he also has his fair share of vehement detractors and critics.
But at the same time, I see a clear protectionist strategy at play in this latest contrived brouhaha, and given the high-stakes endgame this election represents – coupled with Sheriff Chitwood’s call for a federal investigation – I think it is important to examine the motivations of those who have the most to lose.
Love him or hate him, Sheriff Chitwood has become the outspoken voice of an increasingly disenfranchised majority as he works to expose the rank corruption and mismanagement in DeLand – a weird “system” fostered by an information black-market, facilitated by a former county manager with enormous, almost godlike power, and fiercely protected by an unwritten process that grants reciprocal political favors and access to those who can pay to play.
For the past decade – if not longer – Volusia County government has slowly transmogrified into an elite oligarchy – where an incredibly wealthy and well-organized donor class gorges greedily at the public tit in the form of “economic incentives,” tax abatement, infrastructure, cash giveaways, the half-price sale of public assets to private interests, ridiculously low impact fees and the manipulative control of public policy simply by their physical appearance in council chambers.
This camarilla of insiders – who I euphemistically refer to as our High Panjandrums of Political Power – represent the Old Guard, an entrenched power structure populated by influential millionaires – even billionaires – in the insurance, real estate development and motorsports industries – who long ago learned that politics is the art of controlling your environment – and the means to that end is infusing massive amounts of money into the campaign accounts of hand-select candidates.
While completely legal under our antiquated campaign finance rules, the undeniable result is a weird form of quid pro quo corruption – the Latin phrase for “something for something” – a favor or advantage granted in return for something of value – that has changed the course of our collective history here on the Fun Coast.
I’m not going to subject you to the laundry list of giveaways, incentives and corporate welfare projects that have used our hard-earned tax dollars to mitigate private risk for all the right last names for years – you’ve heard it all before.
But suffice it to say that We, The People have stood slack-jawed while the Volusia County Council have confederated with other local officials to transfer tens-of-millions in public funds to these select private interests.
At the same time, we have watched as large areas of the Halifax area have been allowed to decompose – subjected to unchecked blight, dilapidation and a growing sense of hopelessness that has left many of us who pay attention with the unmistakable impression that no one in the Halls of Power cares enough to intervene – because, at its core, that’s not the purpose of the ‘system’ they exist to serve.
Even a casual observer can see the direct lineage of campaign contributions and incentives – and the incredible influence of a few well-connected insiders have on public policy. Now, Sheriff Chitwood is actively calling for a federal investigation of insider politics in Volusia County.
When you connect the donor with the politician and the incentives granted – you see a direct correlation to those who are currently working overtime to demonize Sheriff Chitwood and marginalize anyone else who threatens the status quo.
Ask yourself the darker question – who benefits with Sheriff Chitwood marginalized, brought to heel or out of the way?
Who is best served when the watchdog is politically neutered?
The stakes are high – and many have a lot to lose once the dominoes begin to fall.
In my view, we are witnessing the first salvos in a battle that will ultimately decide the fate of Volusia County.
We have at hand the very real ability to wrest free from the death grip of corruption and cronyism that threatens more of the same – or we can accept the status quo and continue our slow spiral into mediocrity and stagnation.
Ultimately, it depends upon our collective ability to ignore this self-serving faux-outrage and strategic demonization – the result of a ridiculous imbroglio between a member of the entrenched power elite and a foul-mouthed whistleblower with a mandate for change – and focus our attention on making the right decisions at the ballot box this fall.