Thursday, July 1, 2010
So I was sitting in the optician’s office, innocently waiting my turn, when a middle-aged guy came flying in, obviously out of sorts.
Without my asking what the problem was, he volunteered that he was a doctor who had spent the morning wasting a lot of time sorting out three different kinds of patient information forms from three different data bases. Before you could say non sequitur, he announced his analysis of what was going wrong: “I blame Obama.”
I mentioned that bureaucracy had been plaguing health care for years, so it hardly seemed fair to lay the institutional problems on one guy, particularly since his reforms are not even yet in effect, but he was having none of it.
“I’m going Tea Party. We need to take our government back. You should sign up, too.”
He wasn’t armed or imminently dangerous, so I just said: “Not going to happen.”
He replied, equally firmly: “It will. Wait three months.”
The encounter was disturbing – not because it involved running into someone with different political beliefs, which is par for the course – but as an illustration of how out of whack perceptions about policies, and politicians, have become.
When Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings broke the story about General Stanley McChrystal’s scathing remarks about the Afghanistan war, the reaction in two respects seemed stunningly besides the point.
In a prime example of blaming the messenger for the message, Washington pundits demanded to know why McChrystal was talking to a (formerly) counterculture publication like Rolling Stone, instead of, say, Establishment reporters like themselves, though McChrystal is a serial offender when it comes to openly challenging the decisions of the civilians he reports to.
More importantly, the decision to replace McChrystal with General David Petraeus, the architect of a counter-insurgency policy that has failed to produce tangible results, begs the question of just what we are doing in Afghanistan, and how many more will die before we acknowledge that, as in Vietnam, the whole mission is a tragic mistake.
It’s encouraging that Rolling Stone broke the story, a reminder of the role the media can play when it is doing its job well. It’s also telling that the story broke online after competing news outlets heard initial snippets of the scoop. The old rules of the press don’t apply, apparently.
The old political rules in California, unfortunately, are still very much in place.
Governor Schwarzenegger’s decision to reward Abel Maldonado – this issue’s Weekly cover boy – with the lieutenant governorship is a move as cynical as it is shrewd.
The fact that Maldonado’s state Senate seat is up for grabs, contested by longtime progressive John Laird, could put the Democrats within reach of the long-coveted two-thirds majority. But Schwarzenegger’s timing of the June 22 special election between Laird and former Exxon executive Sam Blakeslee hurt Laird’s chances, as did Blakeslee’s expensive TV ads attacking Laird as a “tax-and-spend” liberal.
Yet another costly run-off, with the Libertarian and Independent party candidates on the ballot, is scheduled for Aug. 17.
It ain’t over till it’s over, and Laird’s forces vow to fight until the last dog dies. But for now, he trails significantly in the long-time Republican district. (Assuming current counts stand, Blakeslee garnered 49.5 percent of the vote, a tad under the 50 percent plus one he needed to win without a runoff.)
One man, and one vote, won’t change the entire dysfunctional situation in Sacramento, and I hope the August contest will have a different outcome.
Nevertheless, it’s been disheartening to see how this has played out so far.
They say it’s better to be lucky than smart. Whichever of the factors were at work in Maldonado’s rise, he seems to be in the rare position of reaping an advantage despite Schwarzenegger’s phenomenally low poll ratings.
Positioning himself as a moderate alternative – at least by hard-right California Republican standards – to “San Francisco Democrat” Gavin Newsom, Maldonado’s unlikely candidacy seems like it might have a shot.
The Prop. 8 controversy has hurt Newsom before, playing a major role in his decision to drop out of the governor’s race. Although Maldonado thinks marriage should be between a man and a woman, he has said he won’t play the anti-gay card. But others will do it for him.
Meanwhile, the Tea Baggers simmer.
“You’ll be with me in six months,” the guy in the eyeglass store told me.
That’s still not going to happen. But I hope others don’t share his shortsighted vision when it comes to the statewide election in November.