GELFAND’S WORLD--First, a bit of reminiscing. When Tom Bradley ran for mayor of Los Angeles in 1969, the incumbent, Sam Yorty, waited until the last minute and hit Bradley with a major smear campaign. Bradley lost.
The next time around, Bradley's supporters and the news media were on guard for Yorty's anticipated attack. As the weeks and then the final weekend prior to the election came, there was a substantial level of anticipatory anxiety, but there was no such attack and Bradley went on to win the first of several terms as mayor of Los Angeles. By putting a spotlight on Yorty's sleaziness and keeping the public on edge about what might occur, the news media and Bradley supporters kept the Yorty campaign effectively bottled up because under the circumstances, a repeat of the previous smear could rebound against him.
Unfortunately, the national media have not been quite so reactive against what Donald Trump does routinely -- the nasty nicknames (the most recent of which was actually "nasty"), the chronic lying, and the unpresidential conduct. As an acquaintance asked, "What's to be done?"
I suspect that there are ways. Let's consider.
At one time, there were public signs which gave the count for the national debt. Like digital clocks but with far more digits, they allowed the public to see the rising total debt in the form of hundreds of billions of dollars. Late in Bill Clinton's presidency, the debt clocks stopped going up due to a momentary budgetary balance, but until then, the rapid increase in the numbers was effectively alarming and the debt clock became a standard element in the national discourse.
How about a clock which counts Trump's lies?
The Trumpometer, had it existed, would have hit the ten thousand mark in April. That's a lot of lying.
The point of this exercise is not so much to make a public spectacle of the liar in chief, but to put the thought in Trump's head that people are keeping count. It's to use his clownishness to put him on the defensive. It's also to remind the Trump supporters out there that they are trying to defend the indefensible. The Trumpometer is intended to have some of the same effect that the watchful media had on Sam Yorty's 1973 campaign.
Getting out in front on the nicknames
One of Trump's most effective weapons has been his use of nasty nicknames for those he sees as potential opponents. Whether it be Pocahontas or Low Energy or even Low IQ Individual, they have an effect because they -- at least momentarily -- put the opponent on the defensive. It's like the punchline to the (very) old joke in which one candidate attacks his opponent for engaging in pornographic activities with domestic animals: "No, we can't prove it, but we'll get him to denyin' it." How do you effectively deny that you are low energy or crooked without making a worse fool of yourself in the process?
One possible approach to this schoolyard bullying is to get out in front of it. The media should be asking, "Who is Trump's next target, and what lies will Trump be telling?" This week, Trump is targeting Mueller to little effect, but Who's next?
As an aside, the advance smear is nothing new to the right wing. I can remember when an unknown by the name of Tom Daschle became the lead Democrat in the U.S. Senate. Rush Limbaugh started attacking him with special venom, and suddenly people who couldn't find Daschle's home state on a map were writing angry letters to the editor in my local newspaper.
And who can forget the multi-decade attacks on all things Clinton?
It's important that the sanity caucus get out in front of this Republican propensity. They should roll out the Who's Next? project.
Yes. Who's next, and what lies and school yard taunts will Trump toss up? Let's make it into a national joke instead of a national shame. It's pretty obvious who will be continuing objects of attack:
We need a new generation of political satirists to go head to head with Trump -- in advance -- before he gets the chance to dig in against any and all of these potential dangers. "What's Trump going to say about Joe Biden? That he has a hair piece? What's Trump going to say about Kamela Harris? That she cheats at golf? That Bernie Sanders is putting on weight? That Adam Schiff's reelection was aided by the Russians?" I obviously don't mean for these to be the lines, but somebody who is talented enough to write jokes for late night TV should be able to show the country in advance that Trump's next line of attack is clownish.
I was reminded that we should also tally up the insults. For example, Trump wasn't even off the airplane before he called the mayor of London a "stone cold loser." Projection, anyone?
The California Democratic Party Convention
The party met over the weekend in the bay area. As might be expected, television news coverage concentrated on the long list of presidential candidates who showed up. That focus is not unreasonable, but there were one or two interesting aspects to what the party did internally. The fight over who gets elected to be the state party chair is traditionally misunderstood by the public, because they don't understand that the party convention is not actually representative of the millions of registered Democrats. Elected officials have an unfair advantage over the vast mass of Democratic Party voters because they get to personally appoint a large number of the delegates. Yes, there are delegates who come up through the ranks of the local Democratic Clubs via district-wide committees and county committees, but the better part of a thousand delegates are appointed by the members of the state legislature alone. Add in appointees by members of congress and you have a hefty number. Put it this way: If superdelegates comprised the same fraction of the national convention, it would be a major scandal, but for the CDP, it is business as usual.
And it goes without saying that the elected officials have different interests than those members of the general public who are interested in political reform. Think of it this way -- the electeds have risen through the ranks by being expert at the way politics is waged at the present time. Changing the system by, for example, going to public financing of electoral campaigns would throw their reelection campaigns into doubt and confusion. Can't have that. So, it's no surprise that the electeds weren't hot on any candidate for party chair who supports public financing. You can read about it in the L.A. Times Story, which includes the following telling observation:
"Hicks’ election is considered a victory for many in the party establishment, particularly elected officials who had expressed reservations about Ellis’ platform. Her support of publicly financed elections raised concerns among leaders that she would further limit corporate donors or ban them altogether, a move that could handicap the party financially."
No wonder the grassroots activists I know are so frustrated.
This is also the reason that you shouldn't take seriously party endorsements for election campaigns. Too many of those are routine (and expected) endorsements of incumbents. Not surprising -- that is what political parties do -- but it does not necessarily reflect what is best for our state as a whole. I remember one time when a seriously underqualified Democrat was running for judge against a well qualified Republican. The local Democratic Party endorsed the Democrat. When I asked a friend who was part of the endorsement process why they could have done something so stupid, I was told, "Well we can't endorse a Republican." My response then, as now is, "Why not?"
By the way, this does not mean that we should vote for Republican legislative candidates as long as they support hucksters such as Mitch McConnell, but in the case of a seriously deficient candidate for Superior Court judge, even in your own party, it is civic malpractice to make that endorsement. Even a no-endorsement position would have been far preferable. If you want the endorsement to be meaningful, you can't dilute it's strength by being untrustworthy in how you vet the candidates.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)