The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


May 8, 2012

Bread and circuses

It has been said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and today in Northumberland County we are witnessing the continuation of a modern twist on centuries-old political tactics designed to manipulate public opinion and allow certain government leaders to impose their will while diverting the scrutiny of the public eye.

In the years leading up to the collapse of the Roman Republic, government officials employed a policy known as “Bread and Circuses” in order to simultaneously divert attention of the populace away from the issues that were resulting in the decay of their society, while simultaneously quashing the dissent of any individuals who disagreed with their policies. It basically involved providing amusement and distraction to the masses, typically in the form of battles in the arena, coupled with a modest amount of free bread to temporarily relieve them from the physical hunger resulting from their increasingly impoverished state.

Flash forward a few thousand years and see the similarities to tactics used by some officials in Northumberland County. When you cannot mount a logical argument to someone’s dissenting opinion, you try to undermine their credibility so nobody will listen to them. You call them a “liar,” “low-life,” “shyster,” or “hypocrite.” Refer to them as “cowardly” or “corrupt.” Perhaps you pound on the table or yell while you spew your vitriol. In all the excitement and commotion, nobody is likely to ask you to back up your assertions with facts. It is a circus to be sure, and one that the media, the gateway to public opinion, is drawn to like a moth to a flame.

Throw in a little “bread” in the form of headlines portraying you as champion of the taxpayers for, say, deriding a lawyer for daring to charge for time spent reviewing media coverage relating to a lawsuit in which he’s representing the county. Never mind that comments made to the media are often relevant in litigation, or that you may have just alienated the lawyer who is still defending the county in an ongoing action. It will play well with a hungry public.

As for the latest tactic designed to undermine any dissension, that being Commissioner Stephen Bridy’s comment that I should lose the chairmanship of the Board of Commissioners because I am failing to “lead” (as he defines leadership), I would offer that anyone who has ever dealt with me would not expect that I would attempt to lead this county down the road that Mr. Bridy appears to be travelling. His call for me to step down from the chairmanship isn’t surprising since only two weeks ago his colleague and apparent mentor, Vinny Clausi, stated to me that he thought the “Chairmanship had gone to my head” because, among other things, he could see that I was “trying to stop all the screaming and yelling” at public meetings. It didn’t take a fortune teller to predict that Mr. Bridy would soon be parroting Mr. Clausi’s opinion.

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