[Cross-posted on The Daily Kos]
Part 1: A lesson from cephalopods
If you followed the World Cup at all, then you heard about Paul, the amazing octopus who, amazingly, picked the winner of all eight matches Germany played, including its final loss to Spain. Octopuses are considered the most intelligent of invertebrates, and yet, Paul’s astonishing knack for picking winners seems almost unimportant next to the mystery of why anyone was asking an octopus in the first place.
Maybe it’s because humans are the stupidest of mammals. Still, despite the vast gap in mental acuity and animal taxonomy, the common octopus closely resembles one human subspecies in particular — the common politician — in that both respond to threats by spilling a lot of ink to cover themselves while they flee. Indeed, politicians appear to mimic the eight-legged mollusk: Among animals with backbones, only politicians prefer to act like they don’t have one. Appearing to walk upright, their good posturing can be maintained without any backbone at all.
We see this a lot in the octopus called California politics: The many-tentacled budget crisis. Meg Whitman’s wriggling attacks on Jerry Brown and public employees. Choose your own.
Now that Labor Day is behind us, Jerry Brown has released his first TV ad, and the campaign has “really” started, I wanted to recap, from a union perspective, some observations on the governor’s race this summer — a time dominated in California politics by the state budget crisis and Meg Whitman. Dubbed “Queen Meg” by nurses, “eMeg” by the press and “Nutmeg” by a pair of crazed Los Angeles deejays, the Republican candidate filled California’s airwaves and bandwidth with an acid rain of ads and public statements against both Democratic opponent Brown and the unions supporting him. [Disclosure: I work for SEIU, a member of the labor coalition backing Brown; my full statement is below and will appear on my profile once I can add it.]
With the latest polls at roughly even, an octopus is at least as likely to guess California’s next governor as any pollster. But with Brown — a lifelong public servant — and Whitman — a flash-in-the-pan executive — promising very different futures for the people of California, voters can’t afford to leave the outcome to guesswork or luck. Or an octopus.
Officer Meg places nurses under cardiac arrest
Back in 2005, it was nurses who led the way by dogging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s every step; and then they, along with firefighters, teachers, government workers and other public employees, who turned the tide of public opinion against his special election agenda, one aimed largely at breaking the power of public employee unions. Five years later, Whitman apparently decided the nurses had to be neutralized at the outset. (Just a few days ago, she renewed her attack on nurses in the Daily Kos.)
She began with a politely worded “request” that the California Nurses Association simply hand over its 85,000-member mailing list so she could send them all campaign fliers. The nurses rightly instructed her on how to use an enema tube and said, “If you really want to talk with nurses, come meet us at an open forum with Jerry Brown.”
It quickly escalated from there. Whitman responded by declining the invitation but inviting nurses instead to join her advisory board, a cover to make it seem like she’s on their side. Her campaign bombarded the nurses with mailers anyway, called them with a rigged phone survey, and launched a website devoted to attacking CNA. Lots of ink.
Put another way, the candidate who a month earlier had accused CNA of being “far more interested in partisan theatrics … than a civil discussion of the issues” resorted herself to partisan theatrics rather than engage in that very discussion.
Around the same time, Whitman launched her first attack on the labor coalition backing Brown, California Working Families, with a TV/Web ad attacking the CWF ad for attacking her previous ad attacking Brown for the labor ad attacking her record, which made the coalition release another ad ….
It was starting to look like a set of nested Chinese boxes, except it felt more like one of those Chinese finger traps — the harder you try to pull your fingers out, the tighter the trap closes — only for your head. I’d rather be hugged by an octopus.
About me: I work for SEIU Local 1021 as (among other things) editor of its weekly e-newsletter, the 1021 NewsWire, and its political blog, the Live Wire (www.1021votes.org). I am also a vice president of the International Labor Communications Association (www.ilcaonline.org).