In John Steel's world, there is no such thing as an honest disagreement. Those he disagrees with are not merely misguided, but liars. In Steel's commentary published in Tuesday's Telluride Watch, he writes that the Telluride Town Council "has an obligation to be honest with its citizens, a quality sorely missing" from the presentation of the alternative to condemnation of the Valley Floor that council brought to the public on Dec. 14. Furthermore, Steel writes, he is presenting only "a short list of some of the deceptions and false statements" that he accuses council of making. (Emphasis added.)
It would be possible to address each of Steel's accusations in turn, but we have learned by now that to do so is to fall into Steel's trap because the accusations are endless. He will simply refuse to accept the answer to any of his charges, and then he'll throw out another "short" list of accusations "When did you stop beating your wife?" and then another, and another. A master of innuendo, Steel takes the aggressor's role and throws the first punch precisely to draw us into this utterly dishonest form of discourse. If we let him get away with it, the entire debate over the future of the Valley Floor, and of our town, will be fought on Steel's terms. And if that happens, the community will lose.
The most egregious of Steel's terms is that we must tolerate not one iota of doubt when we make public policy. He plays politics the way a criminal defense attorney defends a client, with the bar set very, very low. He must merely create an aura of mistrust surrounding the entire endeavor. Steel is all about raising doubts in the most belligerent and challenging manner, and that is really pretty darn easy to do in a public policy debate, particularly if, like Steel, you have no allegiance to the truth. He seeks to pile doubt upon doubt, aiming to create a preponderance of doubt in order to paralyze the government and prevent it from acting.
A dictionary-definition demagogue, and a talented one, Steel's M.O. is to excite the public's prejudice and fear. He appeals to the instinct in many of us to mistrust authority. In Steel's world, government is never to be trusted, not even in this small town where our elected officials are our friends and neighbors who share our broad values, even if we often disagree on particulars. In Steel's world, the giant corporations will always get the better of us mere citizens. In Steel's world, emotion always trumps reason and it is better to go down for the cause than to embrace a pragmatic solution to a real problem.
In Steel's world, the public interest always seems to lose.
I have battled Steel and what he represents for years, and there are people who think it's personal, or that I stoop to his level. This time, surely, anyone can see that it is Steel who launched the attack on our civic life with his pugnacious, uncivil and entirely misleading commentary. It is Steel who degrades our public discourse by impugning the integrity of others all seven members of our town council, in Steel's world, are dupes or worse and it is with nothing but sorrow that I feel an obligation to fight back. This community has lost to Steel before, and it has cost us incalculable millions and enormous opportunities for a better future. We may lose to him again he is not to be discounted as an adversary but those of us who have been through a Steel vendetta or two and have seen where it leads (always a dead end) simply must respond, and forcefully.
On the question of the Valley Floor, our council unanimously agreed to a one-year delay in the condemnation proceeding, fully preserving the town's ability to resume it, to allow us the time to weigh the merits of what they describe and what truly is "an alternative worthy of consideration." I believe we now have an opportunity to do precisely that: weigh the two options before us and reach a sound decision. As we embark on what could and should be an enlightening and ennobling exercise in small-town democracy, let us start by rejecting the heated and overblown rhetoric, and the bad faith and mean-spiritedness, of one who has tragically misled us in the past, and shows every sign he would like nothing more than to do so again.