Sunday, May 30, 2010
If the eyes are the window to the soul, as the cliche goes, the political world has a corollary: Books written by candidates are the window into the soul the candidates would like you to believe they have.
Plowing through the books -- both fiction and non-fiction -- penned by those who would lead California (or by their modestly paid ghostwriters) yields a handful of nuggets. Some illuminating. Others baffling. A few we had to consult our own therapists about.
Here are a few things we learned about the candidates from their prose -- or that we already knew, and the books merely added context. Enjoy:
Pop culture icon they identified _with in hard times:
1. Steve Poizner saw himself as Alex P. Keaton, the Michael J. Fox character from the 1980s sitcom "Family Ties." A conservative in a liberal house. Kind of like being governor of California.
2. Carly Fiorina idolized Cinnamon -- the Barbara Bain character in "Mission: Impossible." A spy. Like she didn't have enough corporate intrigue when she was CEO at Hewlett-Packard.
"The Psychotherapy Meter _is Running, Part I": Tell me about your parents:
1. Meg Whitman's dad paid each of his kids $1,000 if they didn't smoke before they were 18.
2. Steve Poizner's mom told him she was dying and asked him to finish high school a year early so she could see him go to college. He did; she lived decades longer.
3. Carly Fiorina's dad told her she would "never amount to anything" after she dropped out of law school.
4. Jerry Brown's dad was governor. So he's trying to be governor twice?
When I was young, I was sooooooooo square that:
1. Steve Poizner hung out at Radio Shack and led the laser club in high school. Now we know why he got a black belt.
2. Carly Fiorina studied French at 4, went to the opera at 7 and took classical piano lessons.
3. Meg Whitman started calling herself "Margaret" when she graduated business school at 23. It lasted two weeks. Really, that's as crazy as she gets.
4. Jerry Brown went to the seminary. 'Nuff said.
5. Tom Campbell? Oh, if that book of "Milton Friedman for Teens" could talk ...
When you're a female candidate, talking about crying can be:
1. Liberating, if you're Carly Fiorina. After crying over a frustrating work situation in 1986, she vows never to cry again unless it is for family or personal reasons.
2. Nonexistent, if you're Meg Whitman. There is no crying at eBay. At least not by her.
3. OK, he's not a woman, and he didn't write about crying, but there was that wrenching moment when Steve Poizner discovered his students did not realize that VC stood for "venture capital."
Titles of chapters in Meg Whitman's book that are totally at odds with someone who spends $68 million of her own money (so far) to get a state government job:
1. The chapter titled "Be frugal. Conserve resources" begins with a simple declaration: "I am frugal."
2. The chapter titled "Be authentic. You can't buy integrity" doesn't foresee the gymnastics of a political campaign. Kind of like how she says she's not for public funding for abortion -- after telling The Chronicle she was. Or how she was a "huge fan" of fired White House environmental adviser Van Jones before she wasn't.
3. And the chapter titled "Trust that people are basically good" doesn't work well with the central advertising theme of her primary campaign: "Why we can't trust Steve Poizner."
Three lines Brown utters in his book that you probably won't hear him repeat on the campaign trail -- but with Jerry, you never know.
1. "We have to recognize that current patterns of affluent living, in America and the rest of the developed world, if not corrected, pose a real threat to the continuation of civilization." Bashing middle-class lifestyle is usually considered a campaign no-no.
2. "Leaving nature to her own devices out of a sense of reverence suggests that we might return to a more primitive state." Female voters might not be real big on primitive -- especially when they're pregnant.
3. "And yet, in many respects, education is a deeper embedding of alienation." Try telling the California Teachers Association, "I was just sayin'."
" The Psychotherapy Meter is Running, Part II": Tell me about money issues and your family:
1. Even after he made his first millions, Steve Poizner still didn't buy new furniture for his home. That came after his first billion.
2. Even though the family was wealthy, Meg Whitman's mom made their five-person family stay in a rented tool shed. OK, so it was on the ritzy island of St. John, which Meg describes as "the Beverly Hills of the Caribbean."
3. Even though she grew up the daughter of an attorney/college law professor who traveled the world, Carly Fiorina paid her own college tuition.
Even if she loses the Senate race, stuff that Carly Fiorina did that makes you want to go out for a beer with her on the day after the primary:
1. At a client's insistence, she went to a strip club, where the dancers refused to perform, saying, "Sorry, gentlemen. Not till the lady leaves."
2. Pounded whiskey shots with Korean businessmen all night because that's what it took to get the deal done. And then rallied the next morning for a meeting.
3. Told a lecherous co-worker who was propositioning her, "I'm going to punch you full in the face."
4. To earn the respect of new colleagues, she stuffed socks in her pants and crowed, "Our balls are as big as anyone's in this room."
"The Psychotherapy Meter is Running, Part III": Tell me about your spouse:
1. Poizner and his wife, Carol, hired a comedian to perform -- at their wedding. And he fell asleep on her shoulder on their first date -- watching "A Chorus Line."
2. Whitman invited her now-husband, Griff, to go to her sister's wedding. He didn't show. That's OK -- she invited four other guys.
3. When he was governor in the 1970s, Jerry Brown ... oh, you're expecting a Linda Ronstadt joke here, right? No. Not going to do it.
Three people Jerry Brown interviewed in his book but will never mention on the campaign trail:
1. The late environmental activist Judi Bari. Famous for: being a pioneer eco-feminist redwood saver. No, not a big crowd-pleaser in Orange County.
2. Sister Helen Prejean. Famous for: opposing the death penalty, which he now upholds. (And for being played by Susan Sarandon in "Dead Man Walking.")
3. Noam Chomsky. Famous for: being so pompous that lesser intellectuals believe he must be smarter than everybody else.
From the world of fiction ripped from the headlines ... Here is how two U.S. Senate candidates -- the liberal Democratic incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer and the conservative GOP Assemblyman Chuck DeVore -- portray villains in their fiction:
Boxer: They're Republicans and a conservative writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Hmmm.
DeVore: The People's Republic of China; Washington careerists.
Here's how they describe an eeeeeeevil plan:
Boxer: Republicans try to stop (her doppelganger) Democratic Sen. Ellen Fischer and fake a terrorist attack.
DeVore: China attacks Taiwan.
How the bad guys talk:
Boxer: Evil former GOP Sen. Carl Satcher: "Imagine: Armored trucks to control every inch of the U.S. border, our ports, airports, and train stations. Vehicles to patrol our cities, equipped with surveillance cameras. Newly designed tanks -- we'll call them Urban Protectors -- to guard potential terror targets such as schools and sports stadiums. City buses -- all across America -- redesigned and rebuilt in the Senator's state to withstand armed attack."
DeVore: Communist Party bureaucrat Fu Zemin: "But the prize here is larger than just Taiwan. Taiwan is the key to control of the entire first island chain, from Japan and Korea in the north, down to the Philippines and Indonesia in the south. Once Taiwan has been absorbed, Japan and Korea will follow into our orbit. The Philippines and Southern Asia will follow. ... China, not the United States, will be the regional hegemon."
How the good guys talk:
Boxer: Brianna Fulton, student daughter of GOP Vice President Craig Fulton: "Mom, I hate when you get all righteous and say things like that! I'll be glad to get back to Berkeley where people tell the truth and things make sense!"
DeVore: Marine Col. Mike Flint: "The bastards send us in to do their dirty work for them. Gradually, their Ivy League sensibilities get the best of them. Before you know it we'll be wearing blue helmets and we'll be left with pocketknives and a government-issued kazoo that we can hum 'Kum-ba-yah' with to all the locals so they can learn to get along with each other. This job isn't fun anymore."
Nothing like hearing a sweet-talking man:
Boxer: Former GOP congressman Ben Lind: "'Listen, ever since I saw you across that room, fighting for your children's bill with every nerve in your body, I've loved you and wanted you and I can't stand the thought of losing you. But this is it, lady! This is the end of the line. I'm not just some colleague asking you to co-sponsor a bill. I'm asking you to marry me.'"
DeVore: "(Air Force Lt. Gen. Tim) Taylor felt as helpless as he did the day his wife died of breast cancer. He drew strength fromDonna's touch and turned to face her, 'Donna, I know this is an extreme situation, but if we get out of this alive I would like it if we could see each other.'
"'I would like that too.'" _
Their version of a happy ending:
Boxer: "'The president could go even further and pick a Democrat, even Ellen Fischer,' suggested the reporter from the Los Angeles Times. 'She took control of an explosive situation with commendable ability.' Ben and Ellen exchanged glances. 'You'd make a great Vice President,' Ben said.
"Ellen looked at him with mock anger. 'If you really love me, you'll never say that again.'"
_DeVore: "The Beijing revolt gave the provinces in the south the time they needed to organize and cast off the Communist Party machine.
"More than 100,000 Party members were executed and twice that number were jailed pending trial. ... Without armed force to maintain power, the Communist Party ceased to exist -- often in a pool of blood."
A final note -- _future reading?
We didn't read Tom Campbell's book, "Separation of Powers in Practice." There are limits to how far we'll go for one story -- and that limit is actually reading a legal textbook. Besides, we hear it's too violent.
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See Other Commentary by Debra J. Saunders
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