Sun Tzu's the Art of War cautions that "every battle is won, before it is ever fought." That statement is especially true for battles in politics.
When Martin Kennedy showed up to a "meet and greet" for candidates seeking the appointment to the Metro school board seat of the resigning Alan Coverstone feeling like he'd already lost the election before he'd ever walked in the door, he wasn't wrong to feel that way. He had already lost it.
“Now I don’t know how, precisely, the front-runners were determined — the candidate meet-and-greet was only last night,” Kennedy said reacting to Councilman Ronnie Steine's assertion that Kay Simmons (the eventual winner) and Elizabeth Merkel were the favorites. “My strong suspicion is that the horse-trading and back-scratching has been under way for at least a week now.”
To which one is tempted to respond, "Well, duh."
We all like to tell ourselves and our children that one can draw a straight line right from hard work and perseverance to material wealth and professional success. Of course, hard work and persistence are important qualities to achieve success but often times raw talent, "who you know," or just plain luck have just as much to do with who wins and loses out in the real world as anything else.
The same is true of politics. We talk about the fairness and righteousness of our political system, and it is far superior to most, but the truth is that the best candidate seldom wins.
We like to tell ourselves that regular folk can run for office and be judged on the merits with out money, power, class and connections coming into play. But we don't live in that world.
So when Martin Kennedy, an MTSU professor with five kids in public school, decides he is going to run for apointment to school board because he has an earnest desire to change things for the good in the public schools, he is doing a noble thing. However, it's a fool's errand.
While he is well informed and intelligent, Kennedy is still very much a political outsider. He is a traditionalist Catholic in a very Christan and/or secular city. He has a Philadelphia accent. He is a man of the Right.
None of these are disqualifiers from office, mind you. But coupled with his penchant for speaking his mind in ways that, frankly, attack the underpinnings of public education itself, Kennedy makes a shoddy change agent. Put simply, Kennedy makes people nervous. He challenges people too much.
"I believe… that if I were the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan I could not have devised a better way to keep black people down than the current education model in our country... the problem now is not Bull Connor with a bullhorn or some white governor standing in the schoolhouse door," Kennedy told the Metro Council assembled to appoint a replacement school board member. "The problem now is a multi-billion dollar per year-protected monopoly that I call the education blob. We have powerful teachers’ unions and powerful school boards but parents, taxpayers, and individual teachers are relatively powerless."
Is Kennedy speaking the truth? Who knows? The point is not whether he is or isn't, the point is whether he has prepared his audience to accept his truth. All that glad-handing and the backscratching that Kennedy derides, that's politics, fortunately or unfortunately, and it opens minds and hearts.
Winning the argument, having the right facts and being "correct" is only part of the game. Just like in the workplace, "who you know" may get your foot in the door but your hard work and talent have to take you the rest of the way. Politics is similar.
You can't just wake up one day speak truth to power and expect the scales to drop from the establishment's eyes. It doesn't work that way. You have to prime the pump. You have to make the connections and form the personal relationships. Quite simply, you have to play the game. You don't have to like it, but you have to do it. Then you can hit them with a bit of truth.
Men of pure uncompromising principle have their place in the public square but that place is the blogosphere or the think tank, not the arena. By walking into the process as a fresh face without solid political backing and spitting out revolutionary concepts, Kennedy torpedoed any chance he had at getting on the board then or in the future.
Rapid change can be acheived, but it can't be in a vacuum. There are battles that have to be fought and compromises that need to be made before one can pivot and try to challenge fundamental assumptions about how things are done. Kennedy should have done this. He's too good to be just a bombthrower.
A.C. Kleinheider is NashvillePost.com's political blogger. Visit Post Politics at http://postpolitics.net