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Business Casual: A Bubble Wrap Conspiracy

I can’t help wondering if certain candidates and political office-holders are the recipients of top-secret but plentiful supplies of bubble wrap – invisible to the rest of us – that they use to insulate and isolate themselves from the world beyond their advisers and supporters and consultants. You know, the world made up of ordinary people with jobs and kids and mortgages and car pools and soccer practices and doctors’ appointments. To say nothing of ears and eyes and brains and even BS detectors.

The bubble wrap seems to be effective on the local and national levels – leading individuals in public life to say and do foolish – or worse – things. (Maybe the plastic cuts off the air supply to a crucial part of the brain.) Then they have to scramble for higher ground to escape the consequences of their ill-considered comments or actions. Sometimes this includes clumsy apologies (“… if I have offended anyone …”) or feigned surprise (“... anyone who knows me ...”). Or simply digging in.

Newton County Commissioner John Douglas came in for some well-deserved criticism and even calls for his resignation after a Facebook post, made in response to a photo of a woman desecrating the American flag. The photo was patently offensive, but Douglas’s use of an ugly racial slur to describe the African-American woman in the photo was not an appropriate response. His public apology chronicling his good deeds on behalf of other African Americans was ineffectual and embarrassing.

Couldn’t he have stepped outside that public official’s plastic bubble for two minutes before he put up the post to think how his comment might be received and to acknowledge that countering disrespect to the flag with racial name-calling was not likely to help the situation? Doesn’t holding public office require something more?

And in my favorite dysfunctional Georgia county – DeKalb, where I have lived much of my life – interim CEO Lee May’s bubble wrap seems to be working for him in a different context. Why would you hire, with great fanfare, former Attorney General Mike Bowers to scrutinize the county for corruption, then be offended when he finds it and declares the county to be “rotten to the core”?

May, apparently piqued by a letter that Bowers and co-investigator Richard Hyde sent to him – with copies to the DeKalb commissioners – after they were denied the opportunity to speak at a commission meeting, called the charges “salacious.” Among the investigators’ findings: stolen county property, widespread misuse of taxpayer-funded charge cards and problems at practically every level of government.

Such plastic-protected isolation is not just a local phenomenon. On the national stage, is Donald Trump’s gold-plated bubble wrap so impenetrable that he actually thinks a majority of voters, not just a few dyspeptic malcontents and other flavor-of-the-month followers who find his bombast temporarily “refreshing,” will want to see him in the Oval Office?

And couldn’t at least one of Hillary Clinton’s advisers have popped a couple of her bubbles and told her that State Department email and a private server at her house made a bad combination? Just the kind of misstep her detractors were hoping for.

Some of these folks might try getting out a little more. A bit of unorchestrated mixing and mingling, without an entourage, could be helpful. Go to a coffee shop, a civic meeting, a Little League game, a PTA meeting – ask questions and listen to the answers. That is certainly easier for local-level officials who don’t have the recognition factor to cope with.

Richard Nixon is said to have left the White House during a Vietnam War protest to talk to some of the protesters at the Lincoln Memorial. Too bad he didn’t do it more often.

Bill Clinton had the right idea. He used to stop by fast-food restaurants on his runs through Washington, D.C. – but the army of Secret Service agents and aides he traveled with probably didn’t do much to stimulate real dialogue.

Maybe a more realistic approach would be for those in public life to hire people who can walk and talk with the common folk and who are not afraid to report back what they hear – the good and the bad. I suspect many of those who could provide this service to their bosses are more interested in telling their employers what they want to hear rather than what they ought to hear.

 But bursting a few bubbles couldn’t hurt.

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