October 24, 2008

Steve Padilla

Nothing Grand Here

Something significant is clearly happening in our country in this year’s election. The seriousness of the historic challenges we are facing as a nation, and the intense level of demand for change has surprised pollsters and pundits. Front-runners became also-rans, and the improbable have become the likely. Historic voter turnout is expected, maybe even for once – among the nation’s young. But a close examination also reveals that when this is all over, something of historic proportions may also need to happen to the major political party now in the minority in this country. A real soul-searching is in order for the G.O.P.

The depth of ugliness, which has become associated with the republican brand, has been on display at every political level from the local to the national in recent years, and people have noticed. From the national ticket to statewide and local races, the “grand” ‘ol party is less deserving of its tag. Democrats aren’t angels, many have engaged in demagoguery at times, but the frequency that candidates of the party of Lincoln of late have thrown truth and decency aside, in favor of appealing to the darkest reaches of men’s souls would clearly win gold medals if lying and indecency were a sport.

Nationally, the campaign of John McCain has devolved to unapologetic attempts to subtly appeal to xenophobia and racism. Questioning Sen. Barack Obama’s patriotism, emphasizing his middle name, saying he hangs out with terrorists, repeatedly stating he will raise taxes for the middle class all the while knowing it is not true are just the tip of the iceberg. Emphasizing where he is different from candidates of our history is nothing more than an attempt to mobilize intolerance. The quick naming of an untested female Governor from Alaska without proper vetting, who is clearly unprepared to be president, and who’s views in many cases are at odds with mainstream America, all solely in an attempt to win votes is appalling. This cynical insult to women was clearly not “putting country first” and reflected the poorest of judgments possible on the part of Sen. McCain regarding the most serious decision a candidate can make.

Cut to local state races and the 78th Assembly District. I recently received a piece of political mail from the California Republican Party as part of John McCann’s campaign effort attacking the Democratic nominee in that district for wanting to “let more illegal immigrants into college and raise our taxes to pay for their tuition.” Once again, during difficult economic times, the use of illegal immigration as a whipping post to fan flames of strong emotions often including bigotry and racism is used as a substitute for any real ideas or agenda to help California. Not to mention that this garbage is completely false.

The attack concerned Democrat Marty Block’s support in 2006 for a resolution of the San Diego Community College trustees to encourage our federal representatives to support something called the DREAM Act. What was that you ask? Something really radical – a program to commit children who had arrived in the U.S. through no fault of their own with undocumented parents and who had been enrolled in school by age 12, to graduating, attending college, or serving in the military. In exchange for having been going to school, graduating with good grades, having no criminal record, and committing to serve America despite what their parents did, they would have a path to citizenship open to them if they achieved military service of college within six years.

There is no provision that states these kids would not have to pay for their community college or university courses themselves, or by working and paying taxes, qualify for student loans. Most sane experts on immigration reform understand this is clearly in our nation’s interests. The DREAM Act was introduced in various forms until 2007 but could not break a senate filibuster. The radical idea had the support of numerous conservative republicans such as Sens. Richard Durbin, Charles Hagel, Richard Lugar and Kay Bailey Hutchison. But that doesn’t matter. Just try to fool people into believing that someone is trying to take something from them, especially “foreigners” and boy will that get them riled up. Not to mention there has been precious little offered from Mr. McCann in the way of any real thought provoking or sophisticated ideas about bringing people together to solve problems. But then again, having served with him for many years, I rarely did.

On the local scene, conservative republicans and their money through the vehicle of the Lincoln Club (wow, what an irony) are gearing up attacks on Chula Vista Councilman Steve Castaneda for having been indicted on thin at best perjury allegations, and found NOT GUILTY by a jury of his peers. Hundreds of thousands of dollars later, you would have thought that the true believers of fiscal constraint would be appalled at the waste involved in this flimsy political witch-hunt. I know, I had a front row seat. But no, it doesn’t matter; just pound away, offering little for the future but more anger and cynicism.

The party of Lincoln once stood for personal, economic and political freedom. It was the party of smaller government, and bigger ideas. It has in recent years and in these campaigns at all levels, abandoned these. I am a proud progressive Democrat. But I miss a loyal opposition once worthy of admiration and respect. Old honest Abe must be rolling over.

Padilla served as Chula Vista Mayor from 2002-06 and on the California Coastal Commission from 2005-07. He is President/CEO of Aquarius Group, Inc. and can be contacted at: spadilla@aquariusgroup.org.

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