Squaring the Circle

As this week's Flyer cover article makes clear, it is by no means certain that the competing interests on the Shelby County Commission are on the verge of reaching a budget agreement. That's the bad news. The good news is that real progress seems to have been made, and it has been made because of, not in spite of, the differing points of view represented by the county's 13 commissioners.

Several suburban (read "white Republican") commissioners reflect their constituents' concern for budgetary reform and fiscal restraints. But they also have an interest in new construction to cure a problem of overcrowding in the county school system. Similarly, most of the inner-city (read "black Democrat") commissioners are more finely tuned to what they see as a need to sustain the current level of public services. But they, too, worry about financial overindulgence. The cross-welter of motives has eventually produced what would seem to be the basis for a compromise budget in which both sides give and receive and agree to an overdue shrinking of general expenditures.

This is how the system is designed to work -- though it sometimes does so according to the general pattern of two steps forward, one step backward.

Some weeks back we editorially lamented the impasse which had led the commission to reject willy-nilly a variety of initiatives proposed by either of the two basic political factions. "Just Say No" had become a watchword. We are happy to say that the emergent compromise budget agreement -- if it or anything like it holds -- says yes in several important ways. It says yes to thinking out of the box on school funding. It says yes to the need for reform of the budgetary process. But it also says yes to the fact that the commission, like all governmental bodies, has an obligation to function in the larger public interest.

What representative government often amounts to is squaring the circle. Let's cross our fingers that the Shelby County Commission might actually succeed in doing so, one more time.

Correcting for Error

We don't want to overkill on a point we have been fairly explicit about -- namely, our concerns about the still missing WMDs, the continuing turmoil in postwar Iraq, and President Bush's less than candid methods of involving us in that Middle Eastern conflict. But there's another constraint we are bound by, too -- to give credit where credit is due.

From that point of view, we now commend 9th District U.S. Representative Harold Ford, whom we have more than once taken to task for what we saw as his uncritical acceptance of the president's war initiative. The congressman called this week for Bush to address the American people and speak up on both the WMD matter and the lack of advance preparations for what has developed (since the official declaration of "victory") into an enduring first-class quagmire. In doing so, Ford has made two acknowledgments characteristic of a conscientious, open-minded public official: 1) that the nation may have committed itself to a wrong course; and 2) and that he, too, may have done so.

The congressman is entitled to credit for his willingness to correct for error, and it is to be hoped that other influential political figures are willing to do the same.

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