Thursday, June 10, 2010

Battleground: Why the California gub. race has potential to get ugly

Disclaimer: I am registered with neither the Democratic nor the Republican party, and I will not be voting for either of these parties' candidates in November.  This is just my personal analysis of where the candidates stand in relation to one another now that they have officially been nominated.

Like many in California, I'm decidedly displeased with the results of Tuesday's primary gubernatorial election.  The parties voted predictably (as usual), even if turnout was a record low for the Golden State.  The lack of general public interest in the election and the lack of intelligence with which these people are running for office is making it difficult to decide who to pick in November, and while many are going to continue to stick to their party candidate, several are also watching and waiting to choose which candidate is the "lesser of two evils" and the best for California.    

This poses a challenge for Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman: a challenge to really show the public their views on serious issues rather than marketing schemes and overwhelming television airtime (ahem, Whitman).  The question is, are they up for this challenge?  They sure are off to a bad start--head to any news site and you'll see hundreds of comments on Brown/Whitman articles complaining about how underqualified each candidate is.  Those who remember the 70s are split on whether or not Brown did a good job, and debating whether or not he's simply too old for the position and his views too dated.  The declining popularity of extreme conservatism and the skepticism surrounding Whitman's voting record, sketchy investments with Goldman Sachs, and her overall lack of policy experience make the Republican candidate a topic for complaint.

We know the candidates have a long way to go to gain our trust and, ultimately, the governorship, but how are they going to prove themselves to us?  Jerry Brown proposed one method yesterday, throwing down the political gauntlet and challenging Whitman to a series of 10 town hall debates over the next 5 months, to which she replied that she would engage in no such debates until Brown lays out his plans for California on his website.  While I think it's a bit silly to demand such web content, she does have a point.  I checked out Brown's website and it's true that the format is a bit different from Whitman's, but what he has that she doesn't is a political resume to die for.  Jerry Brown has cemented his views over a 40 year career, as Governor making California a global economic player as well as the nation's leader in greentech, and as Attorney General busting the bad guys, from gangs to major fraud, including the exposure of President Nixon's tax fraud debacle. 

This first stalemate between the two candidates has many people asking questions.  First, why doesn't Brown's campaign site contain comprehensive action plans like Whitman's?  Second, why did Whitman really stand down from this challenge?  And finally, can we even begin to define candidates by their online personas?

My speculations on these questions are as follows:

1) Brown, running unopposed in the primary, has been flying under the radar for the duration of the campaign thus far.  This has already saved him millions of dollars while Whitman has been flushing her funds down the television toilet, but she still has a big financial advantage over him in the general election race.  While I hate to admit that media exposure is a main factor of influence for voters, it's the truth, and Brown must be creative if he wants to stand up to the cash machine that is the Whitman campaign.  Perhaps he's leaving details off of the web for a reason--the debate series he's proposed would generate a lot of media coverage, and he may be planning on using these events to unveil his plans.  Building the anticipation of what he's going to say could make the debates a hot media topic and attract attention without any spending.  In addition, Brown is expected to all but squash Whitman in an unscripted debate, also a plus when the cameras are rolling.

2) The primary election race has shown Meg Whitman to be great at pumping up her supporters with political one-liners and meticulously prepared talking points, but she has engaged in virtually no informal speaking engagements since she began her campaign.  While this political faux pas has been overlooked so far by most Republican voters, public speaking becomes increasingly important in the general race.  Voters expect their politicians to be master communicators, confident in their arguments and able to make and back up logical claims.  Whitman's refusal to debate Brown, however conditional, is a red flag in my opinion.  Brown even suggested that the topics for the debate be focused on Meg's three main talking points: job creation, spending, and education reform.  For all the mention she has made of these topics in the past few months, she sure doesn't sound very comfortable talking about them with Brown.  The fact that his views on the subject are not on his website is irrelevant--an aspiring politician should be prepared to back up his or her views regardless of what rebuttals are thrown their way.  Unfortunately she doesn't seem to understand that debates work in this way.  Whitman's strict avoidance of basic unscripted dialogue proves that she is faltering in regards to her knowledge of key issues, and many suspect it's because she's being fed talking points by her well-paid staff.  This is not a good sign at all, and I'm not sure how she expects to redeem herself unless she develops some political talent.

3) Let's be real--the internet has made the world a crazy place to live.  Information traveling worldwide at rapid speeds, advertisements targeted personally to you based on data collected by invisible agencies, and the overall explosion of 1st Amendment rights have characterized our era, and unfortunately, my generation.  The good news is that we're smart; most of my peers and I have known how to conduct extensive online research on virtually any topic since age 12.  The trends of internet use have also finally trickled up to the older generations, with many parents and grandparents stepping onto the social networking scene.  People all over California are going to be checking, cross-checking, and double-checking every word that comes out during this campaign--it's simply in our nature to do so.  Depending on what you're looking for, candidate websites may give you several answers to your questions, but in my opinion the only way to really understand a political candidate is by learning about his or her unique background and analyzing the arguments they make in person.  The words and mannerisms a person uses to stand up for his or her beliefs are important insights into their talent as a politician.

Glad I got all this analysis off my chest.  Let the games begin.  I personally hope this battle gets ugly...makes things more interesting :) .

1 comment:

  1. I really like your posts. Sad to say, though, I have to make it clear: You are part of the problem. The Democrats are undisciplined, apathetic, confused at times, and riddled with corruption. All that said, the Republicans are truly corrupt and shill only for big business. The Republicans left the interests of normal people behind years ago. Only the Democrats have a vision for American and California that has a place for small people. What the Democrats need are more ad better people in the party to keep it honest.

    When you refuse to choose between a party, you serve on the Rebublicans. Democrats get wishy-washy and don't vote. Republicans ALWAYS vote, and they ALWAYS make certain their voice is heard. If you don't want a two-party system, then change it. But sitting on the sidelines is tantamount to voting Republican.

    Get used to how bad things suck. They are going to get worse.

    Dennis Wilkins
    The Guest Blogger at
    Public Defender Dude