The “political circus” is in town for a long engagement and it is already clear that we have plenty of clowns lining up to perform in it.
By Jim Miller
Last week, in the wake of the first round of accusations of sexual harassment and Filner’s apology for “not fully respecting” and “intimidating” women I noted that: “Thus, the real winners here are the same old downtown insiders who are busy popping champagne corks and laughing at Filner’s implosion and cheering the welcome help they are getting from unlikely sources.”
Nothing has happened to change this assessment.
Some Filner supporters I have spoken to and who commented on my piece chastised me for being too pessimistic but, sadly, I don’t think I am.
While it is now clear that Filner is digging in, his base of support is split and he will never regain the ability to press a bold progressive agenda against entrenched downtown interests. Those who think otherwise are simply not facing the stark political reality that his admitted actions have brought upon us. Big wins require significant political support and Filner has foolishly squandered the political capital that may have enabled him to do big things.
Thus what we are left with is ugly realpolitik. As Doug Porter’s fine column last Friday pointed out, Filner isn’t going anywhere quickly and the unimpressive turnout at the recall rally last Friday doesn’t bode well for that effort unless they get a boatload of money tossed their way quickly (which is certainly possible). This assures us that the “political circus” is in town for a long engagement and it is already clear that we have plenty of clowns lining up to perform in it.
Indeed last week was the kind of week that tempts one to embrace Mark Twain’s famous condemnation of the “damn human race” in which he informs the reader that,
“I have been studying the traits and dispositions of the ‘lower animals’ (so-called), and contrasting them with the traits and dispositions of man. I find the result humiliating to me. For it obliges me to renounce my allegiance to the Darwinian theory of the Ascent of Man from the Lower Animals; since it now seems plain to me that the theory ought to be vacated in favor of a new and truer one, this new and truer one to be named the Descent of Man from the Higher Animals.”
I say this because I find myself thoroughly disgusted with the whole circus starting with the mayor himself. As I noted last week, whether his actions amount to something criminal and worthy of resignation or not, he is, at a minimum, criminally stupid for betraying the trust of his allies and making it unlikely that his policy agenda survives in anything other than a small way.
Note to Filner supporters: He is not innocent of any wrongdoing. You don’t release a DVD apology for intimidating and not fully respecting women if you are innocent of all wrongdoing. You don’t go on TV and talk about “the monster inside of me” if you haven’t done something pretty shoddy. You don’t announce that you “need help” if you are pure as the driven snow.
Even if he beats the odds and survives this and tries to redeem himself and do some good work, he has already done much harm to his agenda and to the women he admits to not fully respecting and intimidating whether it technically and legally amounts to sexual harassment or not.
Filner supporters who trivialize his admission of bad behavior hurt their own cause and some of the comments I have read here and elsewhere betray a deep insensitivity to the reality of sexism and the widespread abuse of women in American society.
Let me be clear, I’m not saying that a majority of his supporters are doing this, but if you read the comments sections in the media across the board, there is far too much of this. If you don’t get that he has admitted to seriously harmful behavior, you need to do some more self-reflection.
Note to the not-so-dynamic trio who have appointed themselves as the saviors of the thus-far-unnamed accusers of the mayor and of our city: however well-intended, your surreal performances are bush league and embarrassing. As my friend visiting from the Bay Area said after viewing the second press conference, “Who the hell are these people? They seem unhinged.”
Screaming at people who ask valid questions about due process and arrogantly posturing without bringing forth anything but accusations makes you look suspect even if you have a good case.
So does Marco Gonzalez trolling the San Diegans for Bob Filner Facebook page and engaging in petty squabbles with other posters.
And when Marco’s sister, Lorena Gonzalez, is convening a group of Democratic power brokers to discuss who will replace Filner before the party decides whether or not to call on him to step down and before you actually bring a case or an accuser forward invites all kinds of political speculation.
UPDATE: Lorena Gonzalez contacted the author after this was posted, telling him that the NBC report referenced here was wrong, and the meeting was actually convened by Congressman Juan Vargas.
Erring on the side of caution might have been a better course of action. As I said last week: “just trust me” doesn’t cut it nor does trying to rig the final outcome. The way this whole thing went down and the inside game maneuvering around it hasn’t served the community well.
To say that you are doing this to protect the victims is a kind of faux feminism that sounds a lot more like the patronizing patriarchal ideology of the cult of true womanhood in the 19th century than a genuine call for justice. I believe that you think you are on the side of the angels but justice requires that the women stand up for themselves.
Women and their allies fought hard to establish the laws that make sexual harassment a crime. To claim that women are too frail to stand up for themselves in 2013 betrays an unconscious condescension and paternalism however noble your motives. Yes, it will be hard and some people will be uncharitable, but others will stand with them and insist they get a fair hearing and due process.
It’s time to stop holding press conferences and make the case with fewer dramatics and more professionalism and dignity. The women deserve due process and Filner deserves due process. This is the only way justice rather than political gamesmanship will be served.
At best, you’ve ham-handedly brought the cart before the horse; at worst you’ve engaged in a failed political strategy that may not result in any justice being done while destroying the progressive coalition that elected Filner and empowering the enemies of real systemic change in San Diego.
A big fat lemon also goes out to the group of moneyed insiders drafting the ever-opportunistic shape shifter Nathan Fletcher to save the day. It’s clear that there are folks in town who think they get to make the calls for the whole city, that it’s their world and the rest of us are just living in it. No thanks to your help. Lots of us don’t buy the Fletcher flimflam and anointing him before this whole thing plays out isn’t saving us; it’s bringing us back to the bad old days.
Additionally, I know it’s easy, but the local and national media get an obvious raspberry for amplifying the spectacle while illuminating virtually nothing. That’s just what they do. Special recognition, however, goes to Scott Lewis at the Voice of San Diego for attacking calls for due process before resignation as “clever” but “ludicrous.” I don’t expect much from our local information landscape, but this is a new low.
You don’t have to be a supporter of Filner to uphold this principle, you just have to have principles and stand for basic fairness for everyone in the largest sense even when it’s not easy to do so. By making this cynical case Mr. Lewis displays neither cleverness nor principle.
So what is the ugly realpolitik bottom line for progressives?
It has to do with how you answer this question: Is it better to have a deeply flawed and politically wounded Filner for a while longer (likely one term at best if he survives an investigation, court case, or recall one way or the other) or do you see some gain in ditching him and his entire progressive policy agenda because he hurts progressives’ goals more than helps them by sticking around?
Let’s be clear, a Faulconer, Fletcher, or Gloria led San Diego would be a return to business as usual in our city. It would cast advocates for social justice and historically underrepresented groups and neighborhoods back into the political wilderness for the indefinite future. But, if you say keep Filner, you are left with all of his baggage and risk looking like you excuse bad behavior toward women. If you say, ditch him, then you are calling for a return of power to the shadow government of moneyed interests that have run this town for its entire history, like it or not. Or can he beat the odds while admitting the errors of his ways and serve as a redemptive example in some form or another?
To cast this as a choice between morality and politics ignores the reality that politics have moral consequences and a real effect on people’s lives. There are more or less moral budgets, more or less moral policies, and more or less moral kinds of personal behavior. You can’t separate them out; they’re intrinsically interrelated. Hence, it’s a big hot murky mess.
Since Filner is digging in, this debate will continue to split his base and pit former political allies against one another. And his enemies are full of glee, knowing that this nasty realpolitik puts us in a lose-lose situation.
Ugly if he stays, ugly if he goes.
That said, if he hangs on against the current, let’s hope we can get a few good things done in the midst of the maelstrom and, at the same time, shine a light on the pervasiveness of sexism and sexual misconduct by men in power. That’s all we have to hope for now.