Friday, October 29, 2010

The "ands," "buts" and "becauses" of politics

The front page of today’s New York Times carries a 19-word caption that says volumes about our values and our civic life.

The caption runs under a photo of Meg Whitman, the multi-millionaire former corporate executive who is running for governor of California. She is exhorting a crowd of rural supporters.

Here’s the caption:

“Meg Whitman, in Spreckels, Calif., on Thursday, has spent $141 million on her campaign, but is still viewed unfavorably.”

The word that jumps out off the page is “but.”

Why not “and” (and delete the “still”)?

“Meg Whitman, in Spreckels, Calif., on Thursday, has spent $141 million on her campaign, AND is viewed unfavorably.”

Or better yet, why not, “BECAUSE Meg Whitman, shown here in Spreckels, Calif. Thursday, has spent $141 million on her campaign, she is still viewed unfavorably”?

The story under the photo notes that the $141 million was Whitman’s own money.

And therein, reports the Times, is part of Ms. Whitman’s problem. As a CEO of eBay, she amassed millions in bonuses and she is now using that largesse to buy public office.

Polls show that California voters are hardly celebrating her goodly fortune or her attempted electoral purchase. She’s expected to lose on Tuesday.

But that caption reflects political conventional wisdom: Whitman’s deep pocketbook would be expected to buy success at the polls.

This campaign surprises me because analysts have been quick to call the influential Tea Party movement “populist.” If it were truly populist, it would be running from the Meg Whitmans of the world as well as corporations (the ones who send jobs overseas, or hide profits off-shore from taxes — we make up the loss — or purveyed quickie mortgages that brought the economy to its knees.)

Ironically, these are the very interests powering the Tea Party and the anticipated Republican tsunami on Tuesday.

The good news, reported in this story, is that most voters in California seem to be “getting it.”

But why aren’t “populist” voters elsewhere? Could it be prejudice, fear of the unknown, impatience, amnesia (who, after all, made this mess?), ignorance or just plain scapegoating?

Or perhaps it’s all about frustration over a lack of real political choices. The Democrats are only marginally better on these issues than the Republicans. Both parties feed at the same money trough. Those executives whose compensation packages are in the stratosphere make out like bandits no matter which party is in power.

What we need is a real populist movement coupled with a real populist party that attacks inequity, injustice and militarism, whose soldier/victims are the poor, uneducated and unemployed.

Above all, a different kind of populism would tear down and reform a political system rigged by the privileged rich and a corporate Darwinian culture.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...


The piece in the Times the same day that caught my eye was the one on pols hating the media, and the Pied Piper of them all, Sarah Palin. I feel even worse on the eve of this election than I did in 2004. I have a literal ache in my stomach thinking about the Tea Party and what's to come. Frank Rich yesterday in the Times writes about how the Tea candidates that win will be taken to the woodshed soon enough by the GOP hobnobs and instructed how to vote on whatever. They will have to learn soon enough which master to serve.

6:15 AM  

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