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C.B. Forgotston, 1945-2016

Sadly, C.B. Forgotston took his own life earlier this week. The end to his commentary as a result seems consistent with the continuing shift in Louisiana’s political landscape away from a populism based upon the primacy of personality to one where conflict revolves more around issues and ideology, a process he hastened.

He and I communicated sporadically since 2001 and in a small way he inspired to create this blog. Since age 19 I have written opinion pieces for a variety of newspapers and newsletters, for a large portion of that period on a weekly basis although for some stretches only occasionally. In 2002 I made a foray into the Internet-only world through the old PoliticsLA site and then into BayouBuzz, then still submitting every week.

At that point, C.B. had produced his short, almost staccato, blog posts at relatively short intervals between for some years, and got me to considering that I could do something of the same frequency, even though it had been two decades since I had written on a daily basis, during the semester I served as editor of The Oklahoma Daily. As readers of both of us know, and perhaps befitting my journalism and subsequent academic backgrounds, typically pieces here come out five days a week, one a day, and feature greater depth and analysis than did his. Regardless, that he could find something to say on a very regular basis regarding Louisiana politics made me think I could do the same.

By 2005, having digested the large number of changes both at home and professionally as a consequence of my wife’s transitioning into life on a ventilator, I launched this site. Early on, C.B. gave me some encouragement and helpful information from time to time. He shared with me a skepticism about empowering government as it so easily could be turned against the individual. At a basic level, we agreed that the more powerful government became, which necessitated greater claims against people’s liberty fueled by its coercive takings from them in pecuniary and other ways, the more denigrated became the individual as a human being. Only limiting its size and scope could minimize this damage, as even our representative democracy in its being a product of humans by definition always will tend to mirror the innate human depravity that surfaces when any institution gathers too much power unchecked by other countervailing forces.

C.B. did his best on this account, tweaking the political class when it acted in a self-serving manner, and historically he had much fodder to work with in a state whose populist political culture by definition invited such self-service. Populism asks the masses to invest in personalities that promise to right alleged wrongs based upon a Manichean worldview, assuring that they of the in-group can punish the out-group through this politician’s actions in moving the levers of government. Putting faith in such characters gave them free rein to enrich themselves and their cronies in power and/or money, all in the name redressing largely imaginary ills.

Perhaps because he battled in an environment with contours shaped this way for so long, he found it too difficult to put that aside when Louisiana finally got its first chief executive in our lifetime who explicitly rejected governing by a populist worldview, Gov. Bobby Jindal. C.B.’s learned suspicion of all politicians often missed the forest for the trees in Jindal’s case and unfortunately diminished the quality of his criticism. For example, when he would accuse Jindal of “raising taxes” in discussing higher college tuition rates, this made it too easy for astute readers who, in this instance, understood that a coercively gathered levy on individuals by government was not the same as a voluntary fee for service to think he lacked credibility and therefore to dismiss his arguments concerning Jindal and all matters political.

Then again, perhaps it was his calling to declare a pox on all politicians, as my opposite number at the other New Orleans newspaper notes, which he mostly did well. And while the world of politics needs those kinds of critiques, in Louisiana they will decrease in importance as the public turns more to issues and ideology as evaluative tools as it becomes increasingly sophisticated in its thinking about politics and can access more information about that. Ironically, in making more information available C.B. eroded the very milieu in which he wrote by reminding that politicians must be judged not on what they say, but on what they do; on who really benefits and why, not on who are the alleged bogeymen in the narrative spun by them.

While sometimes impolitic, sometimes hindered in his analysis by adhering to the parameters of a populism he often criticized, he contributed in a helpful way to political discourse, and this should govern memories of him.

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