Local Commentary

Editorial: The Fear of Backlash

It’s been a month since the most recent municipal election in the City of Falls Church, but attitudes around City Hall suggest the will of the citizens reflected in the vote have already been muddied and even lost.

For some, apparently, the fact that they didn’t win with virtually 100% of the vote means they have cause for worry. Why did anyone vote against me? Does it mean everyone will vote against me next time? These kind of anxieties are known within the psychological profession as “potency reactions,” the fear that the consequence of winning will be some form of nightmarish backlash.

When this factor is in play, its victims worry more about the concerns of those who voted for the losers in an election, than the expectations of the citizens who voted for the winners.

There is no question that the May 6 election in Falls Church was a rousing “vote of confidence” for the current course of governing in Falls Church. A charter-change referendum went down to a sound defeat. The mayor, who has spearheaded the recent years’ push for new, large-scale mixed use development in the City, was the highest single vote-getter in the election.

But there are those in town who would exploit “potency reaction” tendencies among some with boogey-man type warnings of doom on the horizon. They point to the narrow margins in some of the races, of what’s in store in the next election only two years away. Others walk around town conducting door-to-door petition drives, with no accountability for the kind of pitch they are making. Many people will sign a petition if asked, especially if they’re frightened into believing it will prevent some kind of cataclysmic result. That’s the reason why, in a democracy, such approaches do not have the power of law.

There is such a focus on “consensus” in our society that the idea of “majority rule” has been badly compromised. “Majorities” are almost by definition considered bad things, as many tend to root for underdogs and attend to their feelings. But there were clear majorities in the May 6 Falls Church election, and they should guide the City’s elected officials as mandates for the City’s future. The public agreed with the notion that robust large-scale, mixed use development is good for Falls Church. It has and will hold residential taxes down, and provide for the quality of life, including the quality of City schools, citizens want.

If the citizens decide to change their minds on all that in the next election, and there is no evidence they will, then so be it. For now, they’ve let their will be known at the polls, and it is incumbent on elected officials to follow suit. Anxieties that things might change reflect personal fears that should not dictate public policy.

The only defining principle for governing is the commitment to reason. It makes for the best policies, and the most defensible.

 

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