San Diego mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio likes to portray himself in the media and in his political propaganda that he is the populist outsider that will save San Diego from itself, an image that could not possibly be more misleading
by Jim Miller
“We have a conservative movement that has learned, over the decades, to mimic
many of the characteristics of its enemies.” – Thomas Frank
As Frank Gormlie noted in an OB Rag piece last Saturday, Carl DeMaio used a pull quote from one of my OB Rag columns describing Nathan Fletcher as a “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing.” More specifically, DeMaio’s mailer cites this passage:
Nathan Fletcher is not a man of great political courage. He isn’t even a particularly independent thinker. But he is politically clever, and he knows that San Diego’s Democratic base has a long history of being bamboozled by wolves in sheep’s clothing from the days of Pete Wilson to the present.
What is not at all surprising here is that DeMaio uses my piece and the OB Rag logo out of context, without permission, implying our endorsement of him. That kind of sleazy, unethical behavior is his raison d’etre. Indeed, one can rest assured that San Diego’s finest fabricator took great joy while executing the Machiavellian move of expropriating criticism from the left to use against his right-wing rival while omitting the fact that the same column refers to him as the “snarling pit bull of the right.” DeMaio’s angle? Swipe a progressive critique of one conservative candidate in order to fool Democrats and Independents into voting for the most reprehensible of the right wing candidates: himself.
Does this make DeMaio a shameless scoundrel? Yes. Should that be shocking to you? No—not if you’ve been paying attention.
Indeed in May of last year, I wrote a three part series outlining the nightmare scenario that DeMaio’s crusade to make San Diego the “Wisconsin of the West” represents. In sum, DeMaio is THE wolf in sheep’s clothing in the mayor’s race, the pure product of the right-wing think tank network. Add in some Grover Norquist zealotry, mixed with Newt Gingrich pomposity, and a dash of the Jack Abromoff scandal and you get Carl DeMaio.
DeMaio is not just a garden-variety right winger, he is one of the architects of the movement that has pushed the Republican party into becoming a crew of corporate anarchists whose goal it is to radically remake American society into a privatopia, where the public sector serves little function other than as a conduit for public tax dollars into the hands of the moneyed elite. He is San Diego’s robber barons’ best friend.
But what really makes Carl a local hybrid of Dr. Evil and the Pillsbury Dough Boy is how he has successfully painted himself as a populist reformer.
You can see it in his horrendous television commercials as he leads a pack of corpse-like white people down the street to “take back San Diego.” Cinematically it’s like a fusion of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Night of the Living Dead. But if you can get past the awful imagery, you get to the crux of his public message: I’m not a shill for the rich and big money in San Diego, I’m a man of the people, a populist reformer bent on bringing down the powerful elite and giving the city back to “the people.”
This all sounds great until you realize that DeMaio is the elite. His policies are designed to privatize gain while keeping risk public. His enemies are not those in the Old Guard whose money has dominated city politics for ages; they are city employees—librarians, lifeguards, and sanitation workers. What DeMaio wants to do is punish the politically vulnerable while rewarding the powerful. Literally every idea Carl dreams up is designed to comfort the affluent while sticking it to the afflicted.
The truth of San Diego’s recent history is aptly described in “Paradise Plundered” where Steve Erie and company note how San Diego’s political and business elites have done a fantastic job of “using pubic resources to maximize private profit” with little to no oversight from our “shadow governments” and local media who they accuse of “largely representing downtown business interests.” “Paradise Plundered” singles out the arguments being made by DeMaio, the Union-Tribune, and others in the San Diego media that we have spent ourselves to ruin by illustrating that “the city’s public finances over the past four decades have been marked by fiscal austerity, not profligacy.”
So clearly, Carl DeMaio is factually challenged at every turn.
Nevertheless, by clothing his agenda in a populist costume, DeMaio draws on San Diegans’ legitimate anger and frustration with the economy and the failure of our city’s radically underfunded services to adequately serve the public and redirects it not at the economic movers and shakers or the politicians who actually made the decisions that nearly bankrupted San Diego, but at beleaguered city workers.
The reality is that DeMaio consistently distorts the truth about San Diego’s history and budget in order to demonize working people. He ignores the big givebacks that city workers have made and the fact that the city’s budget is actually inching back from the abyss. Why? The truth would get in the way of crushing unions, privatizing services, and turning San Diego’s government into nothing more than a big fat cash cow for hoteliers, developers, and other Chamber of Commerce types. It is a cowardly, mean-spirited politics, but in some circles, it has worked.
In “What’s the Matter with Kansas” and “Pity the Billionaire”, Thomas Frank has skillfully analyzed how the American right has hijacked populism by redefining the elites not as those who actually hold economic and political power, but as the liberal enemies of “market populism.” In this upside-down, doublethink world, it is never the rich or corporations or their political proxies who are to blame, but those who would limit the nearly untrammeled power of capital. As Frank notes:
“The conservative renaissance rewrites history according to the political demands of the moment, generates thick smoke screens of deliberate bewilderment, grabs for itself the nobility of the common toiler, and projects onto its rivals the arrogance of the aristocrat.”
Thus Carl DeMaio has cast himself as the populist outsider railing against the powerful when, in fact, he is the fox in the hen house. It would be amusing if it didn’t have the potential of doing so much harm to the future of San Diego. And the sad fact is that recent polling shows DeMaio still picking up a significant number of Democrats who’ve been hoodwinked into thinking that DeMaio is a “reformer” rather than the epitome of hypocrisy that he is: a dangerously corrupt fraud.