Friday, April 29, 2016


I recently took sociologist Charles Murray’s 25 question “bubble” test. It was an interesting exercise, with questions like “Have you ever lived in a neighborhood where more than 50% of your neighbors never attended college or earned a degree?”… “Have you ever walked on a factory floor?”…  “Have you ever worked in a factory?”... “Did you grow up in a family where the primary bread-winner was a manual laborer?”

Murray developed the exercise to give the person taking the test some sense of how in touch or out of touch he or she might be with the average American. The higher the score, the more in touch. The lower the score, the more out of touch.

My score was a 70, which placed me in the “average guy” category. 

One of the conclusions that Murray drew from the responses to the test was that there are massive disconnects between those he called “elites” and the average American. They live and act in what Murray defines as “bubbles.” They have no idea what the average American is thinking, nor do they know much at all about the average American’s daily life.

According to Murray, those who live in the “bubbles” reside mainly on the east and west coasts and have little or no contact or interest in the lives of average Americans.

While Murray didn’t express it directly, the term “elites” described our political leaders perfectly. 

There’s a part of me that wants to breathe a sigh of relief. After all, I live in Emporia, Kansas, which is in Lyon County, Kansas. I’m safe….right? Our political leaders are our friends and neighbors. Our political leaders are men and women of the people…right?


I’ve lived here for almost twenty years and I’ve seen over and over again that we have our own elites who live, breathe, and act in bubbles. They’re the reason we get things like welcome rocks, Astroturf, TIF’s, and the political gobbledygook that goes with them.

Last Wednesday I went to the City Commission meeting concerning the vote on the Emporia Pavilions Project. My gut was telling me to stay away, but I couldn’t help myself. I’m a glutton for punishment. In the end, my gut was right. The developers got their TIF, thanks to a 4-1 vote in favor of the project. It was, in my opinion, featherbedding at its finest. The low fives and the knowing nods the developers gave the commissioners as they left the room said it all.

Reading the report in the Gazette about the project prior to the vote only added insult to injury. Assistant city manager Jim Witt all but said it was going to be one big freebie.

I’m not sure where our leaders think the money will be coming from. They made it seem like it wouldn’t be coming from us. You don’t suppose they’ll be firing up the presses and printing it themselves, do you? 

Now, I’m not naïve enough to believe this is going to cost us nothing. I’ve watched the three card monte  and shell games on 42nd Street  too many times to believe someone when they tell me I’ve won the lottery right after they’ve picked my pocket. 

But, the votes are in and we’re moving on. As the historian Suetonius wrote in his description of Julius Caesar leading the Roman legions across the Rubicon: “the die is cast.”

How do these things happen? Charles Murray is right. Too many of our leaders live in a bubble.
I want to believe better of them, but there’s too much evidence for me to blindly accept the idea that they’re acting on our behalf.

At the end of the meeting, outgoing Mayor Danny Giefer presented his “state of the city” address, which was proof-positive that these bubbles really do exist.

I’ve read the goals he outlined so many times I’ve developed a nasty headache from the eye strain. Take goal number 2, for example, which was gobbledygook at a level one usually sees only in national politics. This is how it read:

“Maximize economic development recourse to broaden opportunities and strengthen positive synergies for related city commission funded organizations.”

The third wasn’t a lot better – “Enhance inter/intra government cooperation by maximizing facility and human resources.”

Mr. Giefer must have thought he was trying to win a national prize for using more buzz words per sentence than any small-town mayor in America
I can see what his thought process must have been like. “Lesseee now…Gotta’ fill up the space and baffle ‘em with my brilliance…I’ve got it. ‘Maximize economic development recourse.’ Buzz, buzz. ‘Positive synergies.’ Buzz, buzz. ‘Related city commission funded organizations.’ Buzz, buzz. ‘Maximizing facility and human resources.’ Buzz, buzz.”

Talk about being out of touch. It was absolutely brilliant.

Incoming mayor Rob Gilligan has his work cut out if he wants to top that.

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