Paul Rolly’s op-ed in last Saturday’s Tribune, (“Notes symbolize power and the lack thereof”) is, as always, a frank analysis of the workings of power in the Utah State Legislature. He’s right that Republicans have it and Democrats don’t, but he gets it wrong on Gayle Ruzicka.
For too long, anyone who isn’t an ultra-conservative has propped up Ruzicka as the veritable Voldemort of Utah politics. The initiated get great pleasure from saying her name, as if a bold reference to She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named somehow strengthens their own power while weakening Ruzicka’s. But the metaphor is wrong. Ruzicka is the Wizard of Oz, not Voldemort. Her power comes from our believing she has power–and, even more crucially, acts as a distraction from discussing those who actually have it.
Ruzicka’s power is little more than a public relations strategy that has grown larger than perhaps she even imagined. The image she’s crafted, much like the Wizard’s inventive publicity contraption, has taken on a life of its own. She doesn’t have to be powerful anymore, we do that job for her every time we bemoan her power or hold her up as a conservative scapegoat or liberal whipping boy. Meanwhile, the truly powerful go unnoticed.
The truly powerful in Utah must love all the attention the Eagle Forum President gets. She’s a useful foil for those doing the work of powerful corporations, corrupt politicians, and lobbying agendas of organizations like ALEC. You’ll note that it is nearly impossible to find a decent photograph online of the truly powerful Jason Powers. Images of Gayle Ruzicka, many of them crudely altered in MS Paint, extend well beyond the frontiers of the Internet.
Power is created and maintained collaboratively. This is true both of the Eagle Forum and the many lobbying organizations that otherwise go unnoticed by the general public. By refusing to talk about ALEC, or the mineral and gas lobby, or any other actually powerful organization, we embolden and give them more power. Just as constantly chattering about Ruzicka–and it is chatter–emboldens, at least, the perception of her power.
Her power resides in our talking about it so much, not in her political prowess. It is nothing more than public relations strategy, and as such, it requires a public to believe it. That power can can be undone as soon as we pull back the curtain.
In the meantime, Ruzicka is a distraction from the people with real power at the Utah Capitol. Those people are all the more powerful for their never having to talk about it–“Never seek to tell they love/ love that never told can be.” While Ruzicka tires herself, running from committee room to committee room, publicly testifying, the truly powerful are enjoying expensive dinners and paid vacations. I can almost sympathize with Ruzicka–she has her work cut out for her.