I'm sure by now that everyone that reads my blog (with the possible exception of my mother) has heard about how Champaign Mayor Gerry Schweighart was caught on tape last Friday at a teabagger rally claiming that President Obama was not born in this country. In case you're local and have been living under a rock: the original You Tube video, Smile Politely, and the News-Gazette article. I'm coming a bit late to this rodeo, so I'll just get to my points.
The mayor was not stating an opinion. The mayor is trying to semi-backtrack from his statements, claiming they were only an "opinion." That's flatly false. The mayor was making a statement of fact, not expressing a subjective belief. That chocolate ice cream is better than strawberry is an opinion. That Obama was born in Hawaii and not Kenya, New Zealand, or on Mount Olympus is fact.
There is no First Amendment issue here. I first heard about Schweighart's boneheadedness on the radio on my way in to work Monday. Someone called into the show and stated that the mayor "has a right to express his opinion." No one is saying that the mayor didn't have the right to say what he said. No one is trying to arrest him or put him in prison for it. Similarly, the mayor is free to claim that Laurel Prussing is secretly Bigfoot, but that doesn't make it any less stupid.
This shows a glaring and fundamental lack of good judgment on the part of the mayor. Good judgment has got to be one of the most important characteristics of an elected official and for the mayor to give credence to not just a nutty conspiracy theory, but one that is of such importance to public policy -- the legitimacy of our President -- is distressing. The Champaign City Council appointed former IlliniPundit Gordy Hulten to, um, itself this week. Mark Shelden, the county clerk, has kept those untrustworthy electronic voting machines out of our community. Now, I disagree considerably with both these men on matters of policy, but they seem to be quite capable of exercising good and reasonable judgment in their jobs. (Unless Shelden is doesn't like the electronic machines because he thinks they're part of a UN conspiracy to take control of the government, seize all American farmland, and tattoo 666 on our foreheads, but I doubt that's the case.) But the mayor isn't exercising good judgment here; he's giving in to crazed and irrational conspiracy theories.
What if Schwighart suddenly decided that he was of the "opinion" that Urbana was actually 50 miles north of Champaign? Or that he was of the "opinion" that the city budget was actually one BILLION dollars </doctorevil>?
I don't want to belabor the point, but I don't think that the mayor's lack of judgment is a minor issue. As an extreme example, the Iraqi government has spend $85 million on completely non-working, supposedly-bomb-detecting, dowsing rods. Someone actually decided to spend an astronomical amount of money on a device that has one moving part, no electronics, no batteries, and does effectively nothing. That's a stunningly huge case of bad judgment.
And it turns out that our mayor is no smarter.