The Debate

Wow, so, raise your hand if you listened to the third and final gubernatorial debate last night? If not, you can get the whole thing here.

One thing I’ve been learning over the last few months: State elections are a lot more fun than presidential elections. Way more gloves-off, say-whatever, drama-city then you could ever hope for from someone competent and presentable enough to eek through the presidential primary processes. Another great thing about these mid-terms: for once California isn’t the craziest state in the lower 48 (Christine O’Donnell and Sharon Angle make Gary Coleman and that porn star from 2003 look kind of sweet).

So, the debate. Tom Brokaw pulled no punches with the questions. He asked Whitman about the maid and Brown about the “whore” debacle.

I found his framing of the whore comment a little weird–

“We’ve heard no outrage from you about the use of that kind of language, which to many women, is the same as calling an African-American the n-word. Have you been in charge of the investigation to find out who’s responsible for using that phrase?”

–I can kind of see the analogy. Both terms are derogatory, disrespectful and dehumanizing, and both terms have been to an extent reclaimed. But I think anyone who interacts in the world on a semi-regular basis knows that being called a whore is not as bad as being called a nigger.

Maybe because sexual identity is only one part of what a person is, while the n-word is used to refer to the totality of a person. Whatever. Whore is just not as bad. Maybe in the right context, like the 19th century, or Iran, it might be more comparable.

Neither candidate handled this particular exchange with anything resembling grace. Brown babbled on about how the incident occurred a whole five weeks ago while Whitman cooed “ooooh” like someone was being sent to the principle’s office. Eventually, Brown managed to wrench out a defensive apology, to which Whitman responded with a prissy little lecture. Awesome.

I have to say, as someone who fundamentally disagrees with just about everything Meg Whitman stands for, that woman is really, really well-spoken. I mean wow. She falls back on vague political-stump-talk with some regularity (who doesn’t), but she managed to get in some clever little digs and turns of language. She comes off as especially oratorically gifted compared to poor Jerry Brown, who was busy stumbling over phrases and sticking his foot in his mouth (the back pocket thing?!?) the whole time.

But, you have to get beyond presentation to the content, and the content was:

Budget cuts, obviously.

Sounds like Whitman has her first 15 billion picked out. She didn’t really pinpoint exactly what it was, although welfare, state employee salaries, and future state employee pensions are definitely in the pot along with whatever else.

More jobs.

Not really clear on the plan for this. It’s more of a stated goal for both candidates.

Suspend Proposition 23.

Based on her speech, Whitman’s main reason for the suspension is to ensure that trucking jobs stay in-state. They’re trucking jobs. Where are they going to go? China? Maybe not the best choice for a case-in-point.

Lower taxes.

Of particular interest is the elimination of capital gains tax in order to encourage businesses to establish themselves in California over neighboring states. The flip side of this argument is that individual investors (i.e. non-business entities who just happen to have the income of a major corporation) will also benefit from the tax break.

Support Prop 8.

This one makes me so angry I really don’t know what to say. Whitman used an argument that I think will play really well with middle aged moderates on both sides (i.e. my dad et al): essentially that whatever your point of view, as a part of the state constitution, the proposition deserves another day in court and it’s the duty of Attorney General to make sure that gets done.

Finish the big fence.

Guest worker programs, yea; basically everything else, nay. Whitman specifically targeted San Francisco’s sanctuary status, which, let me just say, I resent. Also beefing up boarder patrols, creating a database that makes it easier to identify faked documents, and, yes, finishing the fence.

Whitman is not some tea-party nut-job.

She didn’t exactly say this, but she did say she wouldn’t be campaigning with Sarah Palin. More than that, she’s pro choice, she’s fine with civil unions, and she never mentioned God.

Apparently we don’t like teachers anymore.

One of the weirdest things about this debate was the discussion of education. Neither candidate could put enough distance between him/herself and the California Teachers Association. Exactly why this is isn’t clear to me.

Normally, teachers are right up there with cops and fire fighters. In every other election I’ve ever seen, an endorsement from the Teachers Association is something candidates brag about in their commercials. The implication seemed to be that schools are failing because teachers are lazy and ineffective; maybe schools are failing because there are 30+ multilingual kids in every room and not enough money for pencils.

Meanwhile, Jerry Brown stressed the following points:

Budget cuts again.

Jerry Brown’s statement about budget cuts was initially pretty hard to follow. He said he would cut the governor’s office by 10-15%. Driving home in my car, I definitely thought to myself: “how much can that possibly be?” and low and behold, Meg Whitman called him out on it before long. At that point Brown clarified, explaining that a leader can’t ask people to make sacrifices without making some himself. Since this is straight out of 90% of the business books I’ve worked on, I immediately thought “yes!”

Brown says he wants to get all the stakeholders together and re-budget, making the necessary cuts in his first 100 days, then go around the southern half of the state explaining why the cuts are necessary. Not as satisfying at Whitman’s 15 billion right off the bat, but I think somewhat more reasonable, since you would need assembly and senate buy-in to pass the new budget anyway.

More jobs.

Nothing to add here. Just, find more jobs.

Prop 8 is unconstitutional.

This was one of the few parts of the debate where I felt like I could really get behind Jerry Brown. He basically stated that Prop 8 violates the 14th amendment. ‘Course, he hasn’t always been exactly rock solid on this.

Pathway to citizenship.

On this issue, Brown became very articulate, but he also offloaded most of the responsibility on the feds. He had some good closing lines about the treatment of migrant workers, though.

Both candidates left something to be desired, Whitman in the areas of policy and compassion, Brown in (not exactly sure how to put this, but) respectability. What I mean is, like most career politicians, Brown is an older white man with a slippery record, who resents having to apologize for letting his staffers call his bitchy opponent a whore. Part of that slipperiness, like the gay marriage thing, may be due to the conflict of duty vs inclination, which I can appreciate. But it doesn’t make for much of a legend.

Oh well. Go Governor Moonbeam. I guess.

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