The Baffler, the magazine that published what remains the best article I’ve ever seen on the scam that is the internship economy (and which remains even more of a scam today, if anything), has just published a long article by the Sacramento News & Review’s Cosmo Garvin on the disaster that has been Kevin Johnson’s political career, highlighted by spending $300 million on a new Kings arena that will open this fall. (Okay, also highlighted by charges that he’s a serial sexual abuser/harasser. Or maybe that’s a lowlight. Or maybe they both are.) It also talks about the lawsuit that Mayor KJ filed against Garvin and the N&R over his public records requests for city emails, and includes one of the best nut grafs you’ll ever see:
The lawsuit, the arena, KJ’s talent for diverting public resources for private gain, even the sex-creep stuff: to me, these facts seem to hang together under a common theme. The guy has boundary issues.
This gets into an area that I’ve always been curious about, which is: Why is it that so many local politicians, once they get into office, behave so much like, you know, politicians? Individuals who might have seemed perfectly sane in private life suddenly start mouthing platitudes and kowtowing to the usual moneyed interests and carrying out policies that are the exact opposite of what they’d promised. It’s incredibly common and fairly creepy, and a big reason why so many Americans don’t trust politicians as a group, even as they keep voting for them based on their promises.
Some of this, no doubt, is due to the political system itself: If you want to get re-elected, you need to say certain things and suck up to certain donors and make sure your daughter goes to a politically acceptable school, and so on. But I suspect that there’s a self-weeding aspect here as well. Think about it: There are thousands of former NBA players, many of which could use their celebrity to run for mayor of some city; why KJ? He certainly doesn’t need the money, or the fame. It takes a very special combination of ego, need for attention, and yes, lack of boundaries to decide that you’re going to merge your city with your personal brand, and declare that anyone opposed to one is opposed to both. And then sue them.
Obviously, not every mayor in the U.S. has set up their own secret government or molested teenagers — KJ is clearly special at this. But I think there’s a particular draw for people like that to run for public office: Anyone who can put up with the pressures of the political spotlight is going to require some, er, special characteristics, and they’re not necessarily ones that make for good management of the public interest. KJ is, by all accounts, a dangerous loon, but the system that put him in charge of a major American city is the bigger concern.
Not that I have any solutions to propose. Other than to ban unpaid internships, because that shit is seriously unethical and illegal.