Conventional Thinking II

The San Diego 2007 Democratic convention is now history. Without making much history. All of the presidential candidates who came into San Diego to press the flesh and shake the money trees left town today without doing much over the last forty-eight hours to change public perception of them. Which is not all that good for the second tier candidates but plays nicely for Hillary and Barack.

I walked into the convention hall just as the Edwards bandwagon rolled in, cheering the former VP candidate to the rostrum. Edwards delivered a sharp speech full of both lofty vision and a surprising amount of detail. Where the other candidates supported universal health care, for instance, he said how he would pay for it. (Lifting the Bush tax cuts on those making more than $200k for anyone who cares to know. Apologies to those of you making more than $200k.) And the crowd loved it. Only Obama got deeper, longer, heartier cheers and applause than did Edwards. And this despite whatever hangovers the delegates were sporting from their Saturday night on the town.

Which is in itself instructive. Clinton got prime time Friday just before lunch. Obama got the slightly less sweet spot just after lunch. Edwards gets dead and dull Sunday morning to speak. So whom do you think the state party leaders who put this convention together favored? Yet Edward’s still beat Hillary on the applause-o-meter. But Edwards has a big hurdle to cross before he can finish in the money. With the exception of FDR, I can’t think of another former VP candidate on the losing side that came back to win the Presidency. Edwards has star power, but he’s no FDR. Or Barack, for that matter.

Bill Richardson was the last of the big seven to speak. Pushing noon, many delegates had already left and most of the camera press corps had packed it in after Edwards. Poor Art Torres, Democratic Party Chair. He introduced Richardson as one of his best friends and heaped every honorific he could on the New Mexican Governor. (“The most qualified candidate running for president!”) But Torres had also spent much of Saturday giving the star treatment to Hillary. At some point Torres is going to have to chose between victory and friendship. In which case it will be bye-bye Billy.

And that’s because Richardson just doesn’t have what it takes. His speech was lively and well received, full of plenty of self-effacing humor. As was his press conference. But he simply did not differentiate himself enough from the more charismatic (or at least supported) top three to give most people a good reason to choose him over Hillary, Barack or Ed. The big three are also as polished and sharp as De Beers diamond. Richardson gives off the aura of a good natured traveling salesman—a Willy Loman without the suicidal urge. While Richardson received more attention from both press and public than did Senator Chris Dodd, like Dodd he seems destined to become yet another member of the Presidential more-qualified-than-the-winners-but-couldn’t-win over-the-voters-so-I-ended-up-on-the-ash-heap-of-political-history Club.

Unless some other Democrat of incredible stature enters this race it comes down to Clinton versus Obama with Edwards a distant third. Unless either of the top two self-destruct for whatever reason, which has been known to happen.

Wonderful. The 2008 election is rapidly shaping up to be more like Survivor than the Lincoln-Douglass debates.

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Conventional Thinking

Here are a few of my immediate observations of today’s State Democratic Convention down at the ‘ol San Diego convention center. (Where the motto is “It doesnn’t matter how beautiful a sunny day it is. While in the Convention Center you will feel not a ray!) The main event, after speeches by everyone from Mike Aguirre to Nancy Pelosi, were addresses by four of the Democratic presidential candidates

Hillary Clinton? She is the consummate professional, approaching this race with the steady confidence of a five time champ hitting the courts at Wimbledon. She has the name. Though, on that score, she only mentioned hubby once during her speech, in passing reference. But Bill’s presence hovers around the campaign. At her follow up press conference, he, or the lack of he, was a major point of questioning. When asked if electing her was a “twofer” she pointed out that there is only one driver’s seat in any car. “And guess which one of us would ask for directions?” she quipped. She has the money, the big guns political support, the experience and the poise to go all the way and she knows it. Likelihood of her committing a Bidenesque gaffe, which may well be the only way she loses this thing? Zilch. If she wasn’t shaken out of her tree by Monicagate, the trials and tribulations of this campaign won’t rock her boat, either. At this point, early as it is, it would appear only an Obama insurgency could derail her. (Unless the Democrats have some really big name, mega charismatic candidate to run which no-one has, as of yet, ever heard from) Which leads to…

Barack Obama? Jeeeesuss. He is that good! He gave by far the most engaging, charismatic and articulate speech of the day. No, he didn’t give a speech. He gave an oration of classical rhetorical style. Bill Clinton meets Martin Luther King delivered with a universal Midwestern accent. (Which, of course, is a contradiction in terms.) And the crowd went wild for him, with more supporters turning out to lead the cheer than did for Hillary, more people crowding the hall than for Hillary (press included) and louder applauses and cheers greeting his words. By just about any traditional measure Obama is at a big disadvantage running against Clinton. But there is a charismatic air of destiny about him that gives hint of the oft discussed but seldom seen political event: the true election upset.

Chris Dodd? Dodd is dead. He says the same things as Hillary, Barack et. al – universal health care: in; Iraq: out—but he doesn’t say them as well as either Hillary or Barack. He’s not quirky like Kucinich. There is simply no sense of destiny about him. He got rousing applause and cheers when he addressed each of the hot button issues – health care, the war, how badly Bush has bashed American standing in the world—but the support was for the concepts, not the man. His post-speech press conference had exactly one camera at it and a smattering of reporters. Hilary’s was SRO with cameras spilling off the raised platform in the back of the room. (Barack did no press, during personal meet and greets for selected supporters. Had he done press, it would have been a zoo.) If the convention is any indication, Dodd, will be gone in a matter of months.

Dennis Kucinich? He’s the Jerry Brown/Ralph Nader of the campaign. Again. Like Brown in 1996 and Nader in 2000 (and himself in 2004) he gets coverage mostly for the outrageousness of his run. Little short dude with a big hair comb over, beautiful young wife that accompanies him everywhere, nailing down the far left plank of the Democratic platform, he’s the odd man out the press likes to cover because he adds a quirkiness that makes good copy. Most of his ideas are not as far outside of the Democratic mainstream as his critics and the press make out. His speech to the convention hit the same themes as his rivals though, on the issue of Iraq, he went the step farther to say what he would do post-US pull out (aid programs, international peacekeepers, regional diplomacy). And he likes to throw impeachment red meat at blue state delegates. At one point the hall chanted along with him “impeach the vice president.” What struck me most was how much he smiled through his speech. Kucinich runs even though he knows he has no chance not because he loves the process of campaigning. He runs because he loves the adulation of the crowd. He may speak a populist game but his run strikes me as the ultimate in vanity candidacy.

Other observations:

The press corps vote is in, at least. Once Obama finished his speech Saturday afternoon the cameras were turned off and the reporters went home en masse, leaving Chris Dodd and Dennis Kucinich to speak to a largely camera-less hall with a rapidly shrinking attendance.

The Clinton campaign runs with Republicaneque attention to detail (with the one exception being her chronic lateness…) For example, Hillary’s supporters on the floor wore matching blue polo shirts, carried professionally made signs and moved with Germanlike precision. Barac’s crew, meanwhile, wore street clothes, carried homemade signs and made the most joyous noise by far as they moved organically through the aisles. Dennis’ supporters likewise wore streets but had professional signs, were few but enthusiastic and somewhat scraggigly in organization.

Chris Dodd had no people. He’s a kinda lonely guy.

Short Shots

Here are a few, brief takes on things from local to global.

    Chutzpah

That’s what you’ve got to call Pamela Naughton claim that Mike Aguirre’s abusing his power by bringing charges against Sunroad Enterprises’ saddest Story, Tom. Naughton is Story’s attorney so of course she has to deny, deny, deny. (When’s the last time you heard a lawyer say, “Just between you and me, judge, my client is outrageously, fabulously, unbelievably guilty—but we can go through the sham motions if you want.” Ain’t gonna happen. And the entire Sunroad saga is soaked in chutzpah: “Let’s build this building as fast as we can cutting every regulatory corner we can and then, when it’s a fait accompli, we build a couple more. Or sue the City for every last dime we’re on the hook for.” Or, at least, that’s how it seems to appear to us plebes. So Naughton bashing Aguirre for being the one city official to point out that former downtown development emperor Tom Story has no clothes (or, more to the point, his building has too many stories) is just par for this chutzpahic course. (And yes, I just made up chutzpahic. Dibs on the future dictionary entry.)

    They’s A Coming

Fresh from the South Carolina “Everybody stand there uncomfortably for ninet miutes and give short soundbite answers and we’ll call it a” Debate, the Democrat’s Magnificent Seven ride into San Diego for this weekend’s State Democratic Convention. Look forward to more play it safe and down the middle stump speeches by the front running duo of Hilary and Barac. It will be interesting to see if they keep using kid gloves on each other like they did at last night’s debate. Apparently both have decided that keeping a détente between themselves while the knock out the wannabes over the next few months is mutually beneficial. I’ll be part of City Beat’s round the clock coverage team down at the Convention Center and look forward to sharing amusing anecdotes and insightful observations (and, hopefully, the answer to the salient question: “What’s up with Dennis Kucinich’s hair?) over the weekend.

    If

Okay, we can all concede Harry Reid is in a race with Joe Biden for the 2007 foot-in-mouth award. (Last year’s winner: John Kerry and his “let me blow another election with one sentence” remarks about the quality of US troops in the run up to last November). Since the November election he has worked overtime nipping away at his party’s credibility with one gaffe after another.

But if you’re going to hang the man, hang him for what he did say, not what he didn’t.

And he didn’t say “The war is lost.” The complete sentence was: “As long as we follow the president’s path in Iraq, the war is lost. But there is still a chance to change course — and we must change course.”

What Reid says what that IF the Bush administration keeps doing what its been doing in Iraq for the last five years – screwing unbelievably up – THEN we lose. And a clear majority of Americans agree with him.

I expect Pravda (aka Fox News) to distort facts whenever it suits their (and the Republican conservative) ideological bias. If Hilary Clinton says “I feel we must deal with those who hate America” (note, I don’t know if she’s ever said this perse) Fox will edit it to have her say “I hate America.” Fox News is like the lecherous old man at the family party who paws up all the younger women. You’re disgusted by it, but not surprised.

What irked me was how the so-called mainstream liberal media fell into the same lockstep, with soundbite after soundbite truncating Reid’s remarks to fit the story frame, truth be damned. No wonder the Pew Research poll found that, despite this being the media age, Americans are no better informed today (and, in many cases, less informed) than a generation ago.

    Battle Royale

And, on a final note, nothing like watching a first place candidate fall on his face. Such is the case with Gaulist presidential candidate Nicholas Sarkoz apparently going out of his way to deep six a debate between run-off rival Socialist Segolene Royale and “out of the money but still king of the mushy middle” Francois Bayrou. The likely result of this is to push Bayrou (and the 19% of the vote he received in last Sunday’s first round) into Royale’s arms(not, in the scheme of things, the worst place to be….) giving her a potential 43% of support (compared to Sarkoz’s 30%) going into the final round. Oh, that right wing politicians learn the limits of their ability to rule the media by decree. But it looks like Sarkoz has got a bad case of Berlusconitis, which could become his undoing.

Jerry Sander Shows

So what have we learned about Jerry Sanders over the last several weeks?

Jerry is a dreamer/optimist. Just look at his budget. With no new taxes (just read his lips, I dare you–sewer rate fee increases, and hotel occupancy tax increases, of course, not included) reductions in staff and increases in overall spending, Gentlemen Jerry promises to move towards a balanced city budget, no reduction in overall services and a closing of the pension funding gap. (Of course calling the current underfunding of our pension a gap is like calling the Grand Canyon a ditch.) Perhaps his Honor might next show San Diegans how they can eat all the Ben and Jerry’s they want, exercise not a wit and still lose weight.

On Friday the City’s Reality Fairy (aka independent budget analyst Andrea Tevlin) will release her take on the Mayor’s wish list. Given that the Mayor’s budget is well below the over quarter billion in additional cuts Tevlin has already called for, I expect she will be popping a few of the mayor’s fiscal fantasy balloons.

Which leads to observation number two:

Jerry is just another politician after all.

Part of former top cop Sanders appeal during the 2005 election was the fact he wasn’t just another downtown politician. As a former police officer he seemed almost Colin Powellesque: above petty politics, dedicated to public service. Now we know better. Politicians from 202 C street to Pennsylvania Avenue have been selling American voters the same “have your government services cake and let others eat the taxes” line since Ronny Raygun blasted his way onto the national stage. Why should Jerry be any different?

And he’s not.

Donna Frye lost her bid for mayor in no small part because she was willing to state the obvious: San Diegans either have to face higher taxes (or fees, surcharges or whatever euphemism you like) or reduced services or both. Being honest did her about as much good as it did Paul “I am not Santa Claus” Tsongas running against Bill Clinton in the 1992 Democratic primaries. Given the choice between reality and political promises the voters always go for the latter. Jerry understood that in 2005 and still understands it in the run up to 2008. The truth about San Diego finances? Jerry’s decided the voters can’t handle the truth.

Jerry as politician takes us to observation number three:

Jerry the politician is off the fence on Aguirre. And he’s not on Aguirre’s side.

Police Chief Lansdowne politicized his office to an unprecedented extent when he not only refused to serve a lawful warrant (something even former DA Ed Miller reportedly felt was way out of bounds) but then went behind the City Attorney’s back to his Honorable Jerry. That Lansdowne would go the extra yard to stick it to Mike Aguirre is hardly surprising. Just look at the Chief’s participation in the misdemeanor melee in which he, the County Sheriff and Bonnie “My Turf” Dumanis carried out a coup d’etat fait accompli, stripping Mikey of his M powers. But the audacity of Lansdowne’s role in what is sure to become Sunroadgate was, well, audacious. That Jerry would then leak the whole thing to the ultimately stabilizer of the San Diego status quo – the UT—is simply unbelievable and inexplicable.

Unless, that is, you accept that Jerry has thrown in his lot with said status quo – the one in which connected developers continue to get sweetheart deals at the public expense thanks to the politicians they put and keep in elected office, in case you were wondering—selling out his independent-man-of-the-people personae for the political support he seems to think he’ll need in 2008. One minute he’s supporting the Miamization of Pacific Beach through the lifting of coastal height limits, next he’s going around the City Attorney’s back to derail an investigation of a developer who played fast and loose with the FAA and the City (not to mention the public) in pursuit of profits at the cost of public safety. What other conclusion can one reach?

Over the last month the Jerry Sanders Show has shown us the real Jerry Sanders. Jerry is starting to look a lot more like Susan Golding and Dick Murphy and a lot less like the .Vox Populi Jerry of the 2005 campaign. He might keep that in mind while he contemplates his chances for a second term.

A Place for Truth

A few weeks back I was looking through an edition of one of San Diego’s myriad neighborhood papers (in this case the March 28th edition of the Coronado Eagle & Journal. There use to be both an Eagle and Journal in Coronado but the same media consolidation that is happening nationally is also happening locally). On the letters to the editor page a cartoon caught my eye because of its glaring inaccuracies. This prompted me to write a letter to the Editor of the Eagle & Journal, protesting this lapse of journalistic ethics. To date, my letter hasn’t been published. So, having my own world of digital vanity, I publish it here. (Dear Editor, Coronado Eagle & Journal: Nyaah, nyaah, nyaah.)

*****
March 29, 2007

Dean Eckenroth Jr., Editor
The Coronado Eagle & Journal
1116 Tenth Street
Coronado, CA 92118

Dear Mr. Eckenroth:

I must take exception to the political cartoon published on page 8 of the March 28th, 2007 edition of the Eagle & Journal. The cartoon in question portrayed George W. Bush and Bill Clinton sitting before a “Fired US Attorney’s Scoreboard.” Behind each a tally is given; Bush: eight, Clinton: ninety-three. The caption has Clinton leaning to Bush saying, “Amateur. The cartoon is both factually erroneous and misleading. As such, it reflects poorly on the journalistic integrity of your newspaper.
The facts, which a perusal of the public record shows, is that Bill Clinton did, indeed, fire all ninety-three Federal attorneys when he assumed office in 1993. This is an expected action of incoming Presidents, especially those following a President of the other party. Ronald Reagan did as much in 1981. George W. Bush likewise fired all but two of the Federal Attorneys appointed by Clinton when he took office in 2001. Clinton, meanwhile, fired two Federal attorneys during the remainder of his two terms in office, both for cause. (One attorney attempted to strangle a reporter, the other was found to have “bit” an exotic dancer—and got caught.) Thus to be accurate the cartoon should have the score being Bush: ninety-nine to Clinton’s ninety-five.
This is not a nitpicking detail. Clinton’s firing of Federal attorneys was well within the established precedent of modern presidents. In the last quarter century only five sitting Federal attorneys have been fired during (as opposed to at the beginning) of a Presidents term of office, all for clearly established, non-political causes. President Bush’s firing of eight US attorneys during his second term of office for political reasons is, therefore, markedly unprecedented.
The deliberate message of the cartoon is that these firings are not only usual but that they pale, in some way, in comparison, to the actions taken by President Clinton. Again, this message demonstrates either a profound ignorance of recent Presidential history and established precedent by its author—and this paper, for publishing it—or constitutes a deliberate effort on the parts of both author and paper to misinform and manipulate the reader.
Editorial opinion is expected on an editorial page, as is partisanship. But neither partisanship nor opinion can be allowed to eclipse established facts, either in the news pages or the editorial pages any publication which claims the mantle and privilege of being a newspaper. I believe a retraction on the part of the Eagle & Journal is demanded in this matter.

Respectfully,
Carl J. Luna

*******

Heavens, I sound professorially pompous in letters! Gotta work on that. Point is, it seems partisan political posturing as perforated our public places down to even our local papers. What’s next: “Why Hilary is a Whore” articles in Girl Scout Newsletters? At some point we have to recognize that there is a line in political debate (I think they call it “reality”) which everyone of everyone partisan stripe needs to respect, least our public debate degenerate into delusion delerium.

Or perhaps we are already beyond that stage.

Oh well, as the famous Roman orator Cicero said, “Mimsy were the borogoves….”

Sunroad to Perdition

It’s true, all that stuff they say about Mike Aguirre. He’s about as warm and cuddly as a wolverine. When he was 6 he sued Santa Claus for breach of contract for not bringing him a pony. If his dry cleaning is late, he announces there’s a conspiracy against him by the petrochemical industry. If he has a choice of walking through a door or blowing a hole in the wall, well—kaboom.

So what.

Aguirre may be abrasive, self-righteous, paranoid and whatever other epitaph you might want to hang him with. But he’s still popular with the public because he’s still the lone voice in the municipal wilderness, shouting that things still reek in the city of San Diego. And that fact chafes his legions of downtown detractors to no end. Especially with his possible reelection in 2008 looming.

It amazes me how much time the powers that be—the City Council, the Union-Tribune and the other nattering nabobs of San Diego insider negativity—spend bashing Aguirre, demonizing Aguirre and all but gathering up the bramble and bracken to make a bonfire and burn Aguirre at the municipal stake. (And, if the spate of anti-Aguirre articles in the news and blog pages of the U-T is any indication, they have started gathering the kindling.)

And how little time they spend actually dealing with the messy, smelly, oozy, oh-god-look-what-was-under-that-municipal-rock issues that Aguirre—and only, most of the time, Aguirre—talks about.

Take the current Sunroad flap. Isn’t it interesting that the U-T and powers that be, from the council to the mayor to even the police chief, are jumping all over Mike for asking (albeit it in his usual shotgun-to-the-face style) the teensily-weensily uncomfortable question: How did a business that just hired the former mayor’s former chief-of-staff get the city to approve a building that violated FAA regulations and should not have been approved? The real story in this story is named Tom, not Mike. But it’s Mikey the downtown crew wants to play piñata with.

The downtown lunch-at-the-Westgate insiders pooh-pooh the oft-repeated Aguirre corruption rant. But the public, poor misinformed saps that they are (count me as one of them), looks at Aguirre and has to say either he’s right and that crowd downtown is crooked as a $3 bill or they must be a bunch of incompetent jerks.

How else do you explain the unbroken string of incompetent moves the city has made? Charger stadium renovation and ticket guarantee flop. Pension-fund fiasco. SEC investigation and San Diego being drummed out of the bond market. Indictments by the fist-loads. Losing money on Liberty Station.

Cripes! How do you lose money when you’re handed some of the most valuable real estate on the West Coast by the Navy? Oh, that’s right. If you’re the city of San Diego, you negotiate a sweetheart deal with a local, well-connected developer, giving him the profits and you the costs. Duh.

And now our Sunroad to perdition. The Sunroad case represents everything that has been wrong in this city for the last 50 years. The same crowd of bankers, developers and little-league politicians that used to sit around swilling martinis over lunch at old Lubach’s restaurant while making imperial decisions to do things like gut downtown and move the entire retail center of the city out to the cow pastures of Mission Valley are still doing their backroom, old-pal-network deals. And this crowd of white, conservative, churchgoing cronies still bristles at the slightest suggestion that there might be the merest whiff of impropriety—much less the foul reek of corrupt conspiracy—in anything they deem to do.

So they beat up on Mikey instead.

Speculation has it that termed-out Council President Scott Peters is an insider favorite knight in shining armor to defeat and de-seat Monster Mike in ’08. Supported by the triad of downtown pols, municipal labor unions and the U-T, Peters has everything he needs to win—except the trust and support of the public. Mike’s still got that. And that, the downtown crowd knows, has got to end.

If the recent barrage of anti-Mike propaganda is any indication, the race to replace Aguirre will be an epic of mud and blood slinging all aimed at showing the ignorant masses what a mean, miserable little creature Mike is for not playing well with his colleagues downtown. Though maybe the anti-Mike crowd is too anxious and nervous to wait that long. Already the “R” word—recall—is being bandied about (in the hypothetical tense, of course). Mike seems to have touched an ultra-sensitive nerve in pulling on the threads of the Sunroad saga. Maybe those at the other end of those threads would just as soon be rid of meddlesome Mike sooner that later?

I wrote years ago when Aguirre ran for City Attorney that he would become the Savonarola of San Diego, burned at the stake for his accurate heresies. Sunroad may be the spark that lights the fire.