Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Zenger’s 2008 Election Endorsements


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

For President and Vice-President:


First, the 2008 Presidential campaign has lasted too damned long. It’s always amazed me that France and other European countries can elect a President in two months, and it takes us a year and a half. I’ve had people who were planning to vote for Barack Obama tell me that they’re already tired of seeing him on TV and wish both he and John McCain would go away. Alas, at least one of them won’t after November 4; indeed, a number of people have theorized that a lot of American voters choose for President simply on the basis of who they think they’ll feel more comfortable seeing on TV for the next four years.

If that’s a criterion this year, Barack Obama would probably get most of that vote. It’s hard to think of the last two debates — in which McCain seemed utterly incapable of concealing his total scorn for his opponent while Obama responded to the slashing Republican attacks on him neither by ignoring them or sinking to their level, but explaining their absurdity in the manner of a patient grade-school teacher dealing with an unruly class — and think that anybody would rather see McCain as Obama as star of the series The American President for the next four years. McCain has come across as quarrelsome and barely in control of himself and his emotions, while Obama has seemed almost preternaturally calm.

Indeed, that’s one of the most powerful reasons to hope Obama will be the next President. He’s shown his ability to discomfit politicians far more experienced and seasoned than he — Hillary Clinton in the Democratic nomination campaign and McCain in the general election — and I can’t help but think, despite the Republican horror that Obama would be willing to talk to presidents Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, Kim Jong Il of North Korea, or Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, “without preconditions” (a persistence of the Bush administration’s attitude that we only talk to people who already agree with us), Obama is precisely the sort of person I would want representing my country across the table from these foreign heads of state.

One of the most peculiar aspects of this campaign is that as it’s rolled on (and on, and on) I’ve come to like Obama more and more each day. (That’s not usually how I’ve felt about major-party Presidential candidates in the past — even ones I’ve voted for.) This shouldn’t be confused with political agreement; I’m still disappointed with his moderation and his oft-cited willingness to reach across the aisle and work with Republicans. I fear Obama’s commitment to broadening the war in Afghanistan, his wimpy formulation that he’d bring about “a responsible end” to the war in Iraq (sounds an awful lot like Richard Nixon’s “peace with honor” in Viet Nam to me!) and his willingness to vote for a bad energy bill and an even worse grant of blanket immunity to telecommunications companies for spying on their customers at government behest.

At the same time, though, I’m finding myself more in awe of Obama’s personal qualities and how he’s managed to get through the end of a grueling presidential campaign without evincing a sense of bitterness — again, in sharp contrast to McCain, who as the campaign has rolled on seems to have become all bitterness. The McCain of this campaign isn’t the one who wrote a successful campaign finance reform bill with Russ Feingold and an immigration bill with Ted Kennedy that was shot down by the nativist Yahoos of his own party. He’s become an ardent Right-winger whose sole economic platforms are more tax cuts for the rich and making people pay more for less health care.

What’s more, in the final stages of the campaign McCain himself has started to sound more and more like a radio talk-show host. Usually Presidential candidates hold themselves aloof from the nastiest partisan attacks; they try to look aloof and, well, Presidential, and leave the dirty business of attack campaigning to their running mates and other surrogates. Sarah Palin, like previous Republican vice-presidential nominees Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew and Dan Quayle, has been superb in this role — at times, especially when she starts talking about who is and who isn’t a “real American,” she comes off as Joe McCarthy in drag — but McCain has been playing it himself as well, as if he (like Hillary Clinton before him) is so intimidated by the fact that this tall, exotic geek has come between him and the presidency he feels an irresistible compulsion to lash out.

About the only thing McCain has going for him in the last weeks of the campaign is that old Republican standby: fear. Fear of terrorists. Fear of taxes. Fear of socialism (it’s an indication of how ridiculously Right-skewed our politics have become that a government program to use the tax money of working people to bail out America’s biggest financial capital firms and save them from their mistakes is being denounced as “socialism”!). Fear of feminists. Fear of Queers. Fear of an opponent who’s “elitist” and out of touch with “real America” — an argument they made successfully against Walter Mondale, Mike Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry but which takes an even more effective racist edge against Obama because there’s a very obvious visual difference between him and what Republican propaganda regards as “real America.”

The days when America’s Right actually offered a positive alternative — the days when Ronald Reagan famously proclaimed, “It’s morning in America” — are long gone. McCain is running the same sort of campaign that elected George W. Bush, and if the economic boondoggles of the last two decades hadn’t caught up with American capitalism McCain would probably have this thing won in a landslide. Instead, in the final weeks it was Obama who took the lead in the polls, less from any of his own qualities or promises (McCain and the Republicans are absolutely right when they say that Obama can’t possibly enact everything he’s promised without raising taxes, but they’re wrong when they make the leap and say, as a claim of fact, “Obama will raise your taxes”) than simply the hunger for something different.

Just how different an Obama-led America will be — if that indeed happens — is uncertain. For all the hope among America’s surviving liberals and progressives that an Obama administration would mean the end of America’s 30-year experiment with deregulation and lassiez-faire economics, his staff of economic advisors is packed to the gills with finance-company executives and the economists who advised them. Lassiez-faire is in the DNA of the U.S.A. — the year this country was officially “born,” 1776, was also the year Adam Smith published his treatise on capitalism, The Wealth of Nations — and in order to shake our national faith in “the Market” it takes not only an economic crisis on the level of 1873, 1893 or 1929 but also a mass movement challenging the very existence of capitalism itself and forcing the capitalists (or some of them) to compromise in order to save their system and their fortunes.

Instead, thanks to their artful manipulation of the racial and cultural anxieties of the 1960’s, the Republicans have made the white working class one of their core constituencies. Talk radio is the voice of the working class in the U.S. mass corporate media — the home of what labor activist and scholar Bill Fletcher calls “right-wing populism” — and the talk-radio response to the current economic crisis has been a call for more deregulation, more lassiez-faire, a “market-based solution” no matter how many working-class and middle-class people get hurt by the loss of what little they have. “Joe the Plumber,” the working-class talisman McCain and his campaign hoped would salvage their hopes in the final stages, turned out to be Samuel Wurzelbacher, an unlicensed plumber and a Right-wing anti-tax fanatic who wants to see Social Security abolished and who has put his money where his mouth is by racking up a $1,200 lien in unpaid Ohio state income taxes.

When Bill Fletcher spoke to Activist San Diego and the Socialist Unity Network October 24, he declined to make a prediction on the election but hinted at how he thinks it’s going to turn out when he said, “I don’t trust the white electorate.” I’ve heard what’s coyly called the “N-word” used about Obama in my own home, and I won’t feel confident that he’s home free until he’s at least 10 points ahead in the polls — the kind of lead I think he’ll need to overcome the so-called “Bradley factor” (whites who are too racist to vote for an African-American but too ashamed of their racism to tell pollsters they won’t) and the likely vote-counting shenanigans the Republicans are likely to pull given that highly partisan Republicans control all three of the companies that make America’s election equipment.

For U.S. Congress:

50th District: NICK LIEBHAM

51st District; BOB FILNER

52nd District: MIKE LUMPKIN

53rd District: SUSAN DAVIS

Just about any Democrat is better than just about any Republican in Congress. Democrats don’t always vote for Queer rights but Republicans have been almost unanimous against us since the evangelical Christian community became such a key part of their coalition. Nick Liebham and Mike Lumpkin are kamikaze candidates running in heavily Republican districts but deserve your vote anyway as a protest. Bob Filner is a thoroughgoing progressive who’s been right on just about every issue, and Susan Davis’s record, though spotty enough that we endorsed her primary opponent last June, is strong enough on issues like repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” that she deserves re-election.

(Zenger’s associate editor Leo Laurence dissented on the Davis endorsement, backing Libertarian candidate Edward Teyssier and calling Davis “a Republican in Democratic clothing.)

For California State Senate:

39th District: CHRISTINE KEHOE

A former colleague and employer of mine on the San Diego Gayzette from 1984 to 1986, Christine Kehoe impressed me then and still does. She hasn’t always been as progressive as I would like but she’s still a strong voice for Queer rights and social issues in the California legislature.

For California State Assembly:

76th District: LORI SALDAÑA

78th District: MARTY BLOCK

79th District: MARY SALAS

80th District: GREG PETTIS

Four proven progressives with proven records in public office. We don’t usually endorse outside of San Diego County, but we’re joining the San Diego Democratic Club in endorsing openly Queer candidate Greg Pettis for the Palm Springs/Desert area seat.

For San Diego Community College District:



William Schwandt is an acceptable, caring incumbent who deserves re-election. Dwayne Crenshaw is an openly Queer African-American who has sought several offices (his candidacy for the San Diego Unified School District was sandbagged by opposition from the business community and former superintendent Alan Bersin) and deserves a chance to serve.

For San Diego Unified School District:




Evans’ opponent, incumbent Mitz Lee, served her purpose in voting to end the evil, inefficient regime of Alan Bersin over the city schools, but now that Bersin is gone it’s time to look to the future. We’re going with the San Diego Democratic Club and the teachers’ union in supporting Evans and incumbent Jackson, and Barrera — who ran against County Supervisor Ron Roberts in his last re-election bid — would have our support even if he weren’t running unopposed.

For San Diego City Attorney:


Aguirre has become the most vilified politician in San Diego in the corporate media because he’s stood up for the people against the efforts of the Mayor, City Council, public employee union leaders and pension fund board members to break the law. Electing his opponent, Jan Goldsmith, would return to the days when the city attorney’s office enabled public-official lawbreaking instead of blowing the whistle on it.

For San Diego City Council:




San Diegans in the three City Council districts still up for election (Carl DeMaio, a Republican but not an establishment candidate, got more than 50 percent in the District 5 primary and won the seat outright) have a clear choice. They can go with the good old person’s network and vote for candidates who will faithfully follow the wishes of big developers, sports-team owners — Republicans Phil Thalheimer in District 1 and April Boling in District 7, and Democrat-in-name-only Todd Gloria in District 3 — or they can vote for the anti-establishment progressives we’ve endorsed.

California State Propositions:

Proposition 1A (High-Speed Rail Bonds): NO

Proposition 2 (Treatment of Farm Animals): YES

Proposition 3 (Children’s Hospital Bonds): NO

Proposition 4 (Abortion: Parental Notification): NO

Proposition 5 (Drug Offender Sentencing): NO

Proposition 6 (Criminal Penalties and Laws): NO

Proposition 7 (Renewable Energy Generation): YES

Proposition 8 (Banning Same-Sex Marriage): NO

Proposition 9 (Limits on Parole): NO

Proposition 10 (Alternative Fuel Bonds): NO

Proposition 11 (Redistricting Reform): YES

Proposition 12 (Veterans’ Home Bonds): YES

THE BOND ISSUES: Ordinarily we’d be pushovers for helping state-of-the-art public transportation systems, children’s hospitals and alternative energy programs. But these aren’t ordinary times. The State of California is deeply in debt and shouldn’t be taking on any more bonded indebtedness — which is just fancy political-speak for borrowing money at a time when the state’s credit cards were maxxed out even BEFORE the recent economic nosedive, which will further deplete state revenues. So we’re opposing all but one of the bond issues on the ballot — Propositions 1, 3 and 10. (There’s another reason to oppose Proposition 10: because it’s a Trojan-horse measure that bills itself as an alternative energy measure but is actually designed to enrich its author, Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens, by spending borrowed state money to push sales of cars that run on natural gas, a nonrenewable fossil fuel Pickens happens to own a lot of.) We’re supporting Proposition 12, the extension of the Cal-Vet program, partly because it comes with its own funding stream (it’s paid for by the people it helps, not by the state’s general tax revenues) and partly because, with the federal government treating today’s veterans like worn-out auto parts, vets need all the help they can get from the state in return for serving their country (however dubious the wars they’ve been obliged to fight have been).

PROPOSITION 2: Most of the campaign on this issue has been over the treatment of farm animals and humanity vs. economics. But there’s an important health reason why this simple measure should be approved: the more animals are crammed together in factory farms, the faster they spread diseases to each other. The faster they spread diseases to each other, the more antibiotics they’re given to control their infections. The more antibiotics are given to farm animals, the more they end up inside US at the end of the food chain — and the more quickly the germs evolve resistance and the antibiotics become useless in treating human diseases. So if you won’t vote for Prop. 2 for the welfare of the animals, please, please, PLEASE vote for it for the welfare of ourselves!

PROPOSITION 4: This has been on the ballot twice before and has been wisely rejected by voters. Just to recap our previous arguments against it: yes, parents should be involved in their children’s decisions as to whether or not to have sex and how to protect themselves against pregnancy and STD’s. But the people who most need this kind of information from their parents are the least likely to get it. Surveys have shown that children of evangelical Christians are more likely to have premarital sex and get pregnant than children of other, more understanding, less judgmental religious traditions — and it’s for the protection of the girls who CAN’T tell their parents that they’re pregnant, for fear of punishment, ostracism or disownment, that we need to protect the right of teenage girls to have abortions safely and confidentially.

PROPOSITION 5: I would have voted for this if I hadn’t read two books recently, David Sheff’s “Beautiful Boy” and his meth-addict son Nic Sheff’s “Tweak,” lately. Those should be required reading for anyone on the Left who still believes that “treatment” is the panacea for the drug problem. The blunt fact is that “treatment” rarely works — one researcher quoted by David Sheff puts the success rate of “treatment” for meth addicts as less than 10 percent — and though some addicts may not be moved by the threat of jail time or criminal sanctions in general, others (including, by his own account, Nic Sheff) are. We supported Proposition 36, which likewise attempted to move the emphasis on dealing with drugs from punishment to treatment, and we don’t regret that endorsement — but Proposition 5 would push the balance too far in the “treatment” direction and deprive state and local authorities of the threat of criminal sanctions which just might be the game-changer to make some addicts take “recovery” seriously.

PROPOSITIONS 6 AND 9: More so-called “victims’ rights” measures that will make California’s already harsh, punitive criminal justice laws even harsher and more punitive. In addition, some provisions of Proposition 9 (notably the denial of legal counsel to convicts in certain proceedings) are probably unconstitutional. We need to shift the balance of California’s criminal justice policy towards rehabilitation — not even farther towards retribution, as these two measures would do.

PROPOSITION 7: Don’t be fooled by the multi-billion dollar campaign being waged against this by California’s largest private utilities — or by the misguided opposition of some environmental organizations who are letting the perfect be the enemy of the good AND are oblivious to the political reality that the defeat of both Propositions 7 and 10 will be taken as a sign that Californians are against alternative energy in general and support the Republican strategy of “Drill, baby, drill!” The requirements of Proposition 7 are tough and probably will increase energy costs short-term, but they HAVE to be tough so the big corporations can’t weasel out of them the way they did out of federal and state fuel-efficiency standards for cars — and in the long term both our pocketbooks and the earth will benefit from Proposition 7.

PROPOSITION 8: This is the measure from the radical “Christian” Right to invalidate the thousands of marriages of same-sex couples performed in California since the state supreme court’s decision allowing them became final June 15 (including mine) and write into the state constitution that only marriage between one man and one woman will be recognized in the state. (One particularly irksome aspect of their campaign is they claim this is the “Biblical” definition of marriage — which it isn’t; marriage in the Bible is defined as between one man and as many women as he can support financially, which in practice made polygamy a luxury item for the rich.)

I had thought the presence of so many same-sex couples who had actually got married — and whose marriages would be annulled en masse by the passage of Proposition 8 — would have changed the dynamics of the campaign from what we’ve seen when this issue has been on the ballot in other states (all but one of which, Arizona, have voted against same-sex marriage, usually by overwhelming margins). It hasn’t made a damn bit of difference at all! Instead, as Jonathan Rauch noted in a commentary in the October 26 Los Angeles Times, actual Queer folk have been almost totally invisible in the campaign. The No on 8 people did polls that said having actual Gay and Lesbian couples appealing to voters to preserve their marriages would just turn people off; what would work, said the pollsters, was having their straight relatives make that appeal — while the Yes on 8 campaign has based itself on fear and in particular has made the claim that if same-sex marriage is allowed to continue in California, the public schools will (gasp!) be forced to teach about it!

The official response of the No on 8 campaign — and the line I was told to use if this came up when I was doing phone-banking for No on 8 — was that this claim was based on a case in Massachusetts and California law is a lot tougher on parental consent: that no schoolchild in this state can be taught anything about family life without their parents’ O.K. But if same-sex marriage is a reality, it’s an obligation for the schools to teach it. Isn’t that one of the reasons we wanted the right to get married on the same basis as straight couples — so that kids who know at 5 or 7 or 9, even before they have much of an idea about what love or marriage or sex are, that they’re going to want such things from people of their own rather than the opposite gender won’t grow up thinking that there’s something wrong with that?

The battle over Proposition 8 isn’t just a fight over same-sex marriage: it’s a moral Armageddon for the heart and soul of America. The explicitly theocratic appeals in favor of Proposition 8 — the statement that California’s civil marriage laws ought to represent the so-called “Biblical” definition of marriage (which, as I noted above, Proposition 8’s advocates have wrong) — and the millions of dollars contributed to the cause by the Knights of Columbus, the Mormon Church, Focus on the Family and other openly religious organizations signify as much. Passage of Proposition 8 will mean the open repeal of the separation of church and state in California and throughout the U.S. — the end of a process that began when the words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance and every atheist and agnostic in the U.S. was told in so many words that they were at best second-class citizens, unable to swear true loyalty to this country because they refused to buy into the concept of a Big Daddy Sky God ruling over us all and enforcing moral judgments on our souls after death.

PROPOSITION 11: This isn’t a perfect measure, but it’s a damned sight better than what we’ve got now — which is state legislators from the Democratic and Republican parties getting together every 10 years to design districts that preserve their current shares of legislative seats and are so imbalanced in favor of one major party or the other that insurgent candidates have no hope of getting elected. Every time I write about redistricting, I quote Bertolt Brecht’s famous quip about the East German system — that they’d figured out a way for the legislature to dissolve the people and elect another — and note how successful state legislatures have been in doing just that. While this measure doesn’t go far enough — not only does it not apply to members of Congress, but quite frankly we’d prefer to see the elimination of winner-take-all geographical districts altogether in favor of proportional representation and European- (or Iraqi-)style “list” systems that would allow alternative parties to compete fairly — it’s an important step towards restoring democracy to California.

(Zenger’s associate editor Leo Laurence dissented from several of the above recommendations. He took no position on Proposition 1A and endorsed Yes on 3, 5 and 10. For more information on Leo’s endorsements, consult his blog at

San Diego Local Propositions:

Proposition A (Fire Protection Agency): NO

Proposition B (Port District Development): NO

Proposition C (Park Lease Revenues): YES

Proposition D (Beach Alcohol Ban): NO

Proposition S (School Construction Bonds): YES

Proposition A is a giant boondoggle to create a centralized San Diego County agency for fire protection. There’s not a damned bit of evidence that it will make any difference in terms of the county’s ability to fight fires. In addition, it’s based on a flawed financing scheme in which working-class people from urbanized areas of the city will be subsidizing the fire protection needs of affluent homeowners who have deliberately put themselves in danger by building in fire-prone areas and therefore should bear the brunt of paying for fire protection.

Proposition B is an even worse boondoggle: a mad scheme by a profit-hungry developer to build a massive something-or-other on top of a working port. You do that, and you don’t have a working port anymore — or the tens of thousands of jobs a working port creates. This is one of the most blatant examples in recent memory of a private capitalist trying to use public money for his own profit (and goodness knows, San Diego has seen some pretty blatant ones already!).

Proposition C is frankly confusing, but its basic intention — to make sure that the money generated by hotels and other commercial development on city parkland is actually used to maintain the city’s park system — is good.

Proposition D was a tough one for us. We acknowledge the statements of beach-area residents who say their lives have been safer, better and more comfortable since the city enacted the temporary ban on drinking at the beaches, which this measure would make permanent. At the same time, though, we don’t see any reason why the ordinary citizen who just wants to kick up his or her heels on the beach and have a cool one while watching the sunset should be penalized for the actions of a few drunken hooligans who rioted at one beach one year. More targeted law enforcement, and maybe a holiday weekend-only ban, would work better than a draconian 365-day-a-year law.

Proposition S — a measure to extend the former Proposition MM to build and repair schools in San Diego — was the one part of the ballot, aside from the Cal-Vet program, on which we broke our resolution not to support any more bond issues. This is going to create jobs locally and help our educational system equip students for the jobs of the 21st century.