Saturday, May 22, 2010

We are not so smoothe in public.

If we want better public officials and better public polices in Oakland we need to drop the personal attacks and denigrating arrogance and pay attention to the “policy wonk” issues. Casting aspersions and throwing mud is the American way. If we listen we get the bad government that we deserve.

Last month President Obama was lamenting that our civil discourse includes too much “vilification” of those who hold different views. He went on to say that this makes it hard for elected representatives to cut the deals that are necessary to make government work.

Right after he said that, the UK held an election where no one party had the majority of seats, which is unusual, nor the majority of the popular vote, as is always the case. They cut a deal and it took them 5 days to do it. The British can be very sharp tongued at election time, but vilification would not describe it. The Lib-Dems and Tories agreed on a budget, agreed to disagree on defense and leave the status quo and they agreed to disagree on Europe and electoral reform and defer to the public in a referendum on both. As I said, this took them 5 days to go from where they wished they were to where they could get enough votes and a deal to govern.

We should be jealous and we should understand that we have no one but ourselves to blame. We allow the public discourse around us to include too much vilification, which is almost always inaccurate; we cast aspersions and we attribute evil motive to our opponents. There is so much of it that when there are real cases of corruption, such as our system of campaign financing, or outright crime, such as the oil well blowout in the Gulf or our support of overseas dictators, it gets lost in the noise and is quickly swept under the rug as soon as a spin doctor or lawyer can call it a “he-said-she-said” situation.

From “drill-baby-drill” to “standing-up-for-our-working-families” we hear a lot of well crafted public relations material. The vote marketing and political product placement approach is fed into our info-tainment media by very well paid and highly trained experts.

This vilification habit is contagious. It has become part of how we talk about each other and too many non-professionals throw out the same kind of cheap shots.

Sometimes it seems that everyone in American politics casts themselves as Luke Skywalker and the opponents are Darth Vader. Yet somehow the Jedi never win? The more we listen to the spin doctors, the advertisers and the lawyers who feed us these farfetched claims and accusations the more our public debate sinks to a level that can only be called adolescent.
We do not have much of a debate and not much of a discussion of public policy this way, as Obama complains. Of course his own campaign was an advertizing masterpiece, but he is still right.
So don’t fall for it. And let’s stop doing it ourselves.
Any time you hear that some public policy is ALL wrong, or some elected official is TOTALLY bad, step back and be skeptical of the person saying that. Is anyone “all” or “totally” anything?
Any time you hear some candidate’s views being “interpreted” for them by their opponents, ask yourself what the full statement was and what do they say. Is it true, or is someone playing “gotcha”?
And ANY time you hear someone saying that someone in our public life has this or that evil motive for what they are doing, ask yourself “How could they possibly know?” and “Why would they say that?”.
Let’s back away from what is over the top. You know it when you hear it, if you want to.
And think about the issues. That is the only part that really matters.

Business as usual in the Democratic endorsment auctions

Feinstein for who?

As the Green party candidate in the Oakland Mayor’s race, I am outside of the circles where our US Senator Dianne Feinstein decided to support out ex-state senator Don Perata. She was never going to call me.

I think she is doing Oakland a disservice by endorsing anyone at all.

The Democrats are like a bad marriage that has regular fights that the neighbors get to hear late into the night. The most nasty fights seem to be over who gets the open job. The other semi-official candidate is going to fight for this vacant job as if her career depends on it, because it does.

None of us will be surprised if the fight gets nastier before it is over. Towards the end of American political campaigns we often have a rash of false accusations, dirty tricks and ugly mudslinging.

Then they make up and pretend that there are no bitter resentments.
We pretend to believe them and try not to get too involved.

The nomination period is still not over, therefore Senator Feinstein is making her choice before the whole field is known. So far Perata’s “conversation” with us Oaklanders does not include much in the way of his views on city issues. So what has she endorsed? Why pick a side?

Oakland, California and the USA are in a major budget crisis and a lingering recession. Sen. Feinstein should be looking to work with whoever is the next mayor of Oakland and should not have her name attached to any hard feelings this election leaves behind. How would she relate to a Mayor Quan if her name is on Election Day dirty business? Would she take calls from a Mayor Macleay?

The next mayor will need to keep up the race for federal funds that our current mayor has focused on. The next mayor will need to find a working relationship with all our state and federal officials.

When the neighbors are fighting late into the night the worst thing you can do is to take sides.

Don Macleay