by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
President and Vice-President: BARACK OBAMA and JOE BIDEN
As I write this, it’s only one week before the November 6, 2012 election, and as tiresome as it gets to hear each general election described as “the most important election of our lifetimes,” November 2012 may well be the most important election of our lifetimes. At stake is the very existence of what few shards of social democracy have ever existed in the U.S. At stake, in fact, is the very existence of an American society. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — the American Right’s second favorite politician of all time, after Ronald Reagan — famously said, “There is no such thing as society. There are only individuals.”
In Mitt Romney’s America, we are all on our own. If we take a million dollars’ worth of family fortune and build it into a billion dollars, we are great, we are worthy and we deserve everything we get without any pesky government bureaucrats taking a dime of it away from us. If we lose our jobs, it’s our fault for not having had the right skills at the right time. If we’re sick or disabled, it’s the job of our families, our churches or private charities to help us. If they won’t, so what, it’s not their problem.
Romney has tried — with remarkable success — to moderate his image in the Presidential debates (his re-invention of the “Moderate Mitt” that won the governorship of Massachusetts and came closer than anyone except the Grim Reaper to ending Ted Kennedy’s Senate career turned a race that seemed to be breaking Obama’s way into a nail-biting toss-up). But facts are stubborn things.
The real Romney remains the one who told his super-duper-rich buddies in Boca Raton, Florida on May 17 that 47 percent of the electorate would vote for Obama no matter what because they “believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.” The real Romney is the one who said in a Republican Presidential candidates’ debate on June 14 that the federal government shouldn’t have any role in disaster relief because “we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.”
And the real Romney is the one who proved in August that he meant what he said on those occasions when he selected Wisconsin Congressmember Paul Ryan as his running mate. Though Ryan has done his own pirouette to the middle, shedding his public devotion to the writings of Right-wing novelist Ayn Rand (at least partly because Rand, an hysterical — in both senses, overwrought and funny — defender of lassiez-faire free-market capitalism, was also an atheist who believed that if two adults wanted to have sex with each other, it was nobody’s business but theirs), he spoke at a celebration of Rand in 2005 where he called Social Security and Medicare ““third party or socialist-based systems” which he wants to privatize to “break the back” of a “collectivist philosophy.”
Ryan says now that he wants to preserve traditional fee-for-service Medicare for people now 55 or older and offer private vouchers as an “option” for younger recipients. But his original plan was indeed, as Democrats have said, to destroy Medicare as we know it by completely replacing it with vouchers to purchase private health insurance— which in practice would mean senior citizens would be paying more for their coverage and getting less. He said that the debate over Social Security and Medicare was “a fight of individualism versus collectivism” and that collectivism will have won “if we do not succeed in switching these programs, in reforming these programs from what some people call a defined benefit system, to a defined contribution system ... and I’m talking about health care, as well — from a third-party or socialist-based system to an individually owned, individually prefunded, individually directed system.”
There have been a number of socially significant 100-year anniversaries in 2012, but one of the least discussed ones is the failure of former President Theodore Roosevelt to regain the Republican nomination in 1912 in his bid to unseat his hand-picked replacement, William Howard Taft. Theodore Roosevelt had committed sins against Right-wing ideology that made him persona non grata among many of his fellow Republicans then and now, including calling unscrupulous corporate owners and managers “malefactors of great wealth,” using the power of the Presidency to broker settlements of major strikes instead of to break unions, actually committing government to protecting the environment and, in the independent Progressive Party campaign he organized after he lost the Republican nomination, becoming the first major Presidential candidate in U.S. history to call for universal access to health care.
Theodore Roosevelt’s failure marked the beginning of the end for progressive Republicanism. It also began the process by which the American Left — or what’s left of it — remains in a political bind: either work in electoral politics through the Democratic Party, and accept the compromises, frustrations and limitations of participating in a pro-capitalist party largely funded by the 1 percent; form alternative Left parties (Green, Peace and Freedom, Justice) which allow their participants to feel “pure” but never actually elect anybody or shape the political debate; or work outside the electoral system altogether. Working with the major parties was easier for Leftists when there were actually two of them with large progressive constituencies and we could play Democrats against Republicans and see who gave us the better deal — but the rejection of Theodore Roosevelt’s candidacy in 1912 began the evolution of the Republican Party into precisely the kind of militant, ideological, extremist party the institutionalization of the two-party system in America was supposed to prevent.
Today the Democratic Party remains a “classic” American political party, loosely organized, consisting of candidates and constituencies at cross purposes with each other, torn between the demands of its voter base (relative economic egalitarianism; protection of workers’ rights; access to employment and health care; civil-rights protections for people of color, women and Queers) and the demands of the corporate rich who finance its campaigns.
The Republican Party has become something that wasn’t supposed to exist in the U.S.: relentlessly ideological, internally disciplined, with plenty of “enforcers” both within the party structure and outside it (Grover Norquist, talk radio, Fox News) to impose ideological purity and relentlessly pursue a policy of destroying the social safety net, a “drill, baby, drill” energy policy that will hasten the demise of the human race, smashing all workers’ rights and environmental protections, “unleashing the private sector” by getting rid of virtually all government regulations, redistributing wealth and income even further upward through tax cuts skewed towards the 1 percent, taking a bulldozer to the wall of separation between church and state, getting government out of the boardrooms and into the bedrooms, and maintaining itself in power indefinitely by disenfranchising voters unlikely to support it (particularly poor people, young people and people of color).
The Republicans don’t have to worry about contradictions between what its voter base wants and what its funding base wants because they are the same thing — because millions of the 99 percent have been won over to the idea that freedom and prosperity will come from making the rich even richer. The fact that this idea has been repeatedly tried and has repeatedly failed — it failed in the 1920’s when it was called “trickle-down economics” and it has failed more recently as “supply-side economics,” which is why the Republican propagandists of today call it “unleashing the private sector” — doesn’t stop either the Republican leaders who embrace it, the corporate rich who propagandize for it (and who, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s loathsome Citizens United decision, have more money than ever not only to promote it but to keep their identities secret as they do so) or the millions of Americans who listen to talk radio, watch Fox News and accept its pronouncements as gospel.
That’s why Zenger’s in 2012 is taking the position that any Democrat is better than any Republican. We’re supporting every Democrat on the current election ballot, ones we’ve had problems with before (like Congressional candidates Scott Peters and Juan Vargas) as well as ones we’ve long admired (like San Diego Mayoral candidate Bob Filner). The stakes are simply too high for us to afford to do anything that might help bring about the total Republican takeover of American politics. As I’ve written in these pages before, progressives and Leftists in the U.S. today are in a similar situation to progressives and Leftists in Germany in the early 1930’s, and we need to learn from our German predecessors’ mistakes. They piously denounced each other and fought useless, meaningless and counterproductive internal battles that only hastened the total takeover of the Nazis. We need to avoid both destructive internal battles and an excess of ideological purity. The Republican Party plans to change America in ways nearly as far-reaching as the changes the Nazis imposed on Germany — and, like it or not, the Democratic Party, despite its serious imperfections, is the only force in U.S. politics that can stop them.
When I wrote the Zenger’s endorsement of Barack Obama for President in 2008, I had few if any illusions about him. I had hopes that his election would galvanize a popular movement the way Franklin Roosevelt’s had in 1932 and John F. Kennedy’s did, to a lesser degree, in 1960. I hoped having at least a fair-weather friend in the White House would encourage the development of a mass Left that would put pressure on Obama to honor all his fine liberal words on the campaign trail. Instead the Left stayed home — progressives in the Democratic Party didn’t want to “embarrass” the new President and Leftists outside it didn’t believe his election made a difference anyway — and it was the Right which was galvanized by the Obama victory, which took to the streets en masse and created a grass-roots movement, captured popular outrage and turned it into electoral victories for the crazy Right-wing policies that had sunk the economy and allowed Obama to win in the first place. Had the Occupy movement begun three years before it did — and had it had the same single-minded focus on affecting the electoral system the Tea Party has — the history of Obama’s term would be far different and far more productive for progressive ideals.
So the task for progressives and Leftists now is to come together, do what we can to re-elect Obama, vote for Democrats straight down the line on every ballot — and be prepared to stay in the streets as long as we need to in order to turn back the tide of the Right and counterbalance the enormous pressure on Obama and the Democrats to sell us out.
Especially Important Local Races in San Diego
Mayor of San Diego: BOB FILNER
County Supervisor, District 3: DAVE ROBERTS
San Diego City Council, District 1: SHERRI LIGHTNER
Voting for every Democrat over every Republican is harder in California than it is in many other states because local offices are nominally “non-partisan.” That’s like calling a glass of water “non-wet.” All politics are partisan, and the three races above are particularly important:
Bob Filner for Mayor: Over a decades-long political career, Bob Filner has been as consistently progressive as you can be and still hold a major elective office in U.S. politics. He’s spoken at Occupy events while virtually all other local politicians shunned them. He’s personally led homeowners defending their homes against foreclosure. He’s been a militant force for veterans needing his help as a Congressmember to get the benefits the government promised them when they signed up.
Filner’s opponent, Carl DeMaio, is a virtual exemplar of modern-day Republicanism at its worst. A hypocrite — he claims to have built up a private business when he really became rich on the taxpayers’ dime, charging governments for advice on how to outsource — he views public employees and their unions much the way Luke Skywalker viewed the Death Star. He’s promised to do for (or to) San Diego what Scott Walker did to Wisconsin.
Dave Roberts for Supervisor: It’s been a surprisingly low-keyed race, but this openly Gay Democrat has managed to win the endorsement of the Republican he’s seeking to replace, Pam Slater-Price. Since 1994 the San Diego County Board of Supervisors has been an all-white, all-Republican fiefdom. Roberts won’t bring ethnic diversity but at least he’ll bring political diversity and be one vote against the current all-Republican Board’s refusal to take many federal and state grants to help the county’s poor and sick people.
Sherri Lightner for City Council: With Republicans on a roll in recent San Diego City Council races, Lightner’s re-election is essential to keep a Democratic majority on the Council and either block the worst of Mayor DeMaio’s initiatives or make sure Mayor Filner actually can get things done.
These three races, plus Scott Peters’ campaign for Congress against particularly loathsome Republican Brian Bilbray and No on Proposition 32 (see below), are the priority campaigns of the San Diego Democrats for Equality.
Superior Court Judge, District 25: ROBERT AMADOR
County Board of Education, District 1: GREGG ROBINSON
Community College District Board, District B: BERNIE RHINERSON
Community College District Board, District D: MARY GRAHAM
San Diego Unified School District Board, District A: JOHN LEE EVANS
San Diego Unified School District Board, District D: RICHARD BARRERA
San Diego Unified School District Board, District E: MARNE FOSTER
In the June 2012 election, a Right-wing crazy named Gary Kreep slipped onto the San Diego County Superior Court bench by mobilizing his key supporters to vote for him while no one else was looking. Now another one, Jim Miller, is trying the same thing. While Zenger’s opposes the whole idea of electing judges — we think the framers of the U.S. Constitution got it right when they had judges appointed and guaranteed life tenure except for serious misconduct in office — Robert Amador is a former prosecutor who has been rated “well qualified” by the San Diego County Bar Association while Jim Miller has been rated “unqualified.” The San Diego Democrats for Equality rated Amador “acceptable” (their highest level of support for a Republican) and Miller “unacceptable.” The conservative Lincoln Club first endorsed Miller, then rescinded their support and endorsed Amador instead.
On the school board races, we’re going with experience in the classroom — virtually all our candidates are current or former teachers — and in Robinson’s case, his record as a teachers’ union leader and his participation in Occupy events and other progressive causes. In the primary we endorsed Bill Ponder for San Diego Unified School District Board, District E, but we’ve changed our minds this time around less because of Ponder himself than the company he keeps; he’s aligned himself too closely with the corporate school “reform” crowd that believes in non-elected school board members and relentless testing regimes used not only to measure student achievement but to damn teachers and entire schools as “failing.”
Proposition 30 (Temporary State Taxes for Education and Public Safety): YES
Proposition 38 (Tax to Fund Education): NO
We’re discussing these two propositions together because they’re related. Proposition 30 is the initiative put on the ballot by Governor Jerry Brown and carefully crafted to include both a sales tax increase and an income tax increase on high earners. The point is to avoid an estimated $5 billion cut in education funding (the current state budget was built on the assumption that 30 would pass and therefore will have to be cut severely if it loses) and also to make more money available for public safety and other important government functions.
Proposition 38 is a rival proposition put on the ballot in a signature-gathering campaign financed by its author, Molly Munger. It’s being sold on the basis that it raises income taxes only — though the tax hikes are spread throughout the entire population instead of being concentrated on the top earners — and all the money raised will be earmarked only for education. Governor Brown tried to keep this off the ballot because he knew that having two tax increase proposals on the ballot would only make it difficult for either one to pass.
Given that Munger’s half-brother, Charles, Jr., and their father, Charles, Sr., have emerged to fund the No on 30 campaign as well as Yes on 32 (see below), it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Molly’s initiative was a stalking horse designed to make sure no tax increase passed and the power of progressive California was broken once and for all. Vote YES on 30 and NO on 38.
Proposition 31 (State Budget Changes): NO
This is a close one because Proposition 31 — the last remaining shards of an ambitious project by a group called California Forward to call a convention to rewrite the California Constitution — actually does some genuinely good things. It would require that all tax cuts be accompanied by clearly spelled-out spending cuts so state legislators and voters would know how they would be paid for. It would require the legislature to adopt a two-year budget so they’d be forced to do long-term planning in a state that’s been woefully short of it.
But it also would give local governments broad new powers to set aside inconvenient state regulations — and in a county like San Diego, where the Board of Supervisors has been all Republican for longer than some people eligible to vote this year have been alive, that could spell disaster for environmental protection and health care. NO on 31.
Proposition 32 (Getting Unions Out of Politics): HELL NO!
Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric from supporters that this is “political reform” and it applies equally to labor unions and corporations. It prohibits both unions and corporations from making automatic deductions from people’s paychecks to fund political contributions. Sounds fair? No, because in the real world unions get the bulk of their political action funding from employee contributions while corporations don’t. It would be like “equally” banning the rich and the poor from eating dog food.
If you don’t believe me, read the legislative analyst’s description in the official ballot pamphlet (p. 29): “Many unions use some of the funds that they receive from payroll deductions to support activities not directly related to the collective bargaining process. These expenditures may include political contributions and independent expenditures — as well as spending to communicate political views to union members. Non-union members may opt out from having their fair share fees used to pay for this political spending not related to collective bargaining” — so Prop. 32 isn’t needed to protect workers’ rights not to have their money used to promote political causes with which they disagree. They have that power already.
The legislative analyst continues, “Other than unions, relatively few organizations currently use payroll deductions to finance political spending in California.” In other words, Prop. 32 would virtually annihilate the role of organized labor in funding politics in California while leaving corporations and wealthy individuals able to contribute as much or more, both directly to candidates and indirectly through PAC’s, as they do now. Californians wisely rejected milder versions of this measure in 1998 and 2005. They should do so again. (Emphasis in the legislative analyst’s quotes added by this author.) HELL NO on 32!
Proposition 33 (Corporate Welfare for Mercury Insurance): NO
Like Proposition 32, Proposition 33 is one of those bad ideas that keeps coming back because deep-pocketed individuals (in this case, one deep-pocketed individual, Mercury Insurance founder and CEO George Joseph) have the money to get it onto the ballot and the sheer determination and gall to keep doing so no matter how many times voters turn it down. It’s Joseph’s attempt to carve out an exception to current California auto insurance law that will benefit his company specifically. As Michael Hiltzik wrote in the October 21 Los Angeles Times, “By making auto insurance more expensive for exactly the people who should be encouraged to buy it — young and low-income drivers — Proposition 33 would drive up the number of uninsured drivers on California roads. That isn’t good for anybody.” NO on 33.
Proposition 34 (Replacing Death Penalty with Life Without Parole): YES
Proposition 35 (Increased Penalties for Human Trafficking): NO
Proposition 36 (Reform of “Three Strikes” Law): YES
We’re lumping these three together because they all have to do with criminal justice. The late comedian Lenny Bruce said, “Capital punishment means killing people who killed people to prove that killing people is wrong,” which eloquently summed up my own opposition to the death penalty. Proposition 34 is being sold less on the overall humanity or morality of the death penalty and more as a money-saving measure — mainly because the process of seeking, imposing and defending a death sentence through the courts is difficult, time-consuming and expensive. And if you’re going to have a death penalty at all, it needs to be because you don’t want to risk executing an innocent person. You may never be able to give back the years or decades a person who turns out to be innocent has spent in prison, but at least s/he is alive to enjoy the exoneration and freedom they never should have had to lose in the first place. You can’t revive an execution victim. I’ve long believed capital punishment is a sign of barbarism, and ending it a victory of civilization. YES on 34.
Proposition 35 was a tough one for me. Its goal — to end the economic and (especially) sexual exploitation of human beings — is laudable. Many of its provisions make sense, including educating law enforcement officers to see people “working the streets” in the sex trade as potential victims of trafficking instead of assuming they’re willing criminals. Even the lengthening of prison sentences for trafficking — though a regrettable example of the tendency of Americans to believe that the way to control a social evil is to make it illegal, and the way to control a social evil that’s already illegal is to make it more illegal — can be defended on the ground that the longer a sentence is for a particular crime, the more likely law enforcement officials are to take it seriously and devote more resources to stopping it and catching its perpetrators.
But where the authors of Prop. 35 lost me is when they decided to finance it from asset forfeitures from the (alleged) traffickers themselves, to block their access to the Internet (whether they used the Internet to commit their crimes or not), and worst, to put traffickers on the sex offender registry. Asset forfeitures are already one of the most abused parts of the anti-drug laws, and the sex offender registry is an offense against justice which should be abolished, not expanded. Its only function is to facilitate and encourage vigilantism. A reluctant NO on 35.
Proposition 36 is another long-overdue reform. While not abolishing the awful “three strikes” law altogether (that would be too much to hope for), at least it requires that the third “strike” needed to impose a life sentence automatically must be a “serious or violent” felony. No more life sentences for stealing pizzas. YES on 36.
Proposition 37 (Labeling Genetically Modified Foods): HELL YES!
This should be a no-brainer. Whatever your opinion on the merits of genetically engineering technology — which is not the same thing as the selective breeding farmers have been doing for millennia — people have the right to know what they’re putting into their mouths. Adam Smith, the founder of capitalist theory, said that a free market would work only if buyers and sellers were equally informed. If you’re going to buy something — especially something that literally becomes part of you, the way food does after you eat it — you have a right to know what’s in it. It’s fascinating to see people who ordinarily consider themselves believers in “free markets” and opponents of government regulation now telling us that we don’t need to know what’s in our food because we can trust the government to tell us whether it’s safe or not. If genetically modified food is so great, the people making it can get us to buy it willingly instead of slipping it onto store shelves secretly in the dead of night and trying to trick us into consuming it. YES on 37.
Proposition 39 (Closing Corporate Tax Loophole): YES
In a vain attempt to get a Republican in the state legislature to vote for his proposed temporary tax increase (which he later had to put on the ballot himself through initiative signatures as Proposition 30), Governor Brown and the Democrats in the legislature put into the state budget a pro-corporate tax loophole that allows companies to decide how to do their own taxes and pick the option that gives them the lowest tax. (Gee, I wish I could do that.) This proposition would undo that ridiculous decision and increase the state’s income by a badly needed $1 billion per year. Unless you’re a member or a fan of the 1 percent, this one is easy. YES on 39.
Proposition 40 (State Senate Districts): YES
First, Republican activists in California pushed hard to get the task of drawing legislative and Congressional districts out of the hands of the state legislature and assign it to an independent commission, thinking this could get them a few more Republican — or at least closely divided — seats. Then, when it didn’t work out that way, they sought to repeal the new State Senate lines with a referendum — a process that gives voters the chance either to ratify or defeat a bill passed by the legislature. Now they’re saying, “Never mind.”
In one of the weirdest statements ever to appear on a ballot even in a state where the referendum and initiative processes have become as perverted as they are in California, the No on 40 side (written by the referendum’s sponsor, Julie Vandermost), says, “As sponsors of Proposition 40, our intention was to overturn the commission’s State Senate districts for 2012. However, due to the State Supreme Court’s ruling that kept those districts in place for 2012, we have suspended our campaign and no longer seek a NO vote.” In other words, since they couldn’t get what they wanted immediately, Ms. Vandermost and those mysterious other “sponsors” took their football and went home. YES on 40.
Proposition Z (San Diego school bonds): YES
If there’s ever a time to borrow money to build and refurbish schools, now — when interest rates are at record lows and the money will mean construction, which will mean jobs — is it. YES on Z.
Proposition H (Medical Marijuana/Del Mar): YES
Proposition T (Medical Marijuana/Lemon Grove): YES
Proposition W (Medical Marijuana/Solana Beach): YES
Until the federal government has an attack of good sense and either reclassifies marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II (which would in one stroke eliminate all the maddening conflicts between state and federal law and allow states and localities to authorize medical use of marijuana without fear of federal raids or sanctions) — or, better yet, gets rid of the prohibition of marijuana altogether and allows states to regulate and tax it — these initiatives, which authorize medical marijuana dispensaries and tax them to benefit local government, are worth supporting. YES on H, T and W.