We write this just after having witnessed the four major Memphis mayoral candidates in a debate at a Rotary Club luncheon at the University Club. By general consensus, not excluding partisans of each of the four, all of them
— Mayor A C Wharton, Councilmen Harold Collins and Jim Strickland, and Memphis Police Association president Mike Williams — fielded questions smoothly and well, and, to go way out on a limb here, each of them offered convincing evidence of being able to serve as mayor if elected.
Since we at the Flyer were co-hosts of sorts for the debate, we take an understandable pride in that fact — not in having caused it, mind you, but in having the honor to be there to observe the results.
What was responsible for the remarkably uniform display of knowledge, insight, and improvisatory skill — all attributes which are surely prerequisites for serving as chief executive of the nation's 22nd largest city — was the experience, day-in and day-out, of having to think about the subject of governing, talk about the subject of governing, and interact with citizens who had their own ideas about being governed — often contrary ones, but just as often complementary to those which this or that candidate has in mind to propose.
The process has a certain resemblance to the premises of a Socratic dialogue — the kind of interchange which, if all goes well, results in a synthesis of views and a leap forward of sorts for the res publica. But to get to the launching pad for such progress requires, above all, being there — making oneself available to the public that, once in power, one will have the duty to represent.
Why are we making such a big deal of a simple truism? Because there is a countervailing theory these days of how democratic government works, and it has bought its way into the catbird seat. It is all well and good to be able to raise prodigious sums of money, as a few local candidates have done in the present election cycle. It is another thing altogether to hide behind one's moneybags, as it were, deigning never to match wits with an opponent or even to submit to fair-minded, unscripted exchanges with the public at large, but letting slick mail-outs and canned TV ads tell the tale — or make the sale, as it were. A tale which — without the reality-testing that genuine public colloquy provides — could as easily be based on fiction as upon fact.