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.
Judith Wesling says
Let me be the first to congratulate Jill Miller on a perceptive and reasoned article. Yes, all that press conference posturing was indeed faux feminism. Generations of women fought to have laws and procedures to fight sexual harassment in the workplace. They should have been used by these women for these alleged incidents, and the mayor would have received due process which is proper and fair for him.
What a pity he had no one close enough to him to point out the pitfalls of such alleged behavior.
The second press conference was unbelievable. I decry all the posturing of the members of the “old order” and their glee at taking down someone we regular folks voted for. No thanks Fletcher and Falconer, I want the mayor we currently have. He has my support.
Filner’s boorish behavior is a disappointment. That said, the actions of the 3 and the women they claim to represent are mysterious. Established due process would provide the accusing women confidentiality; this public political circus does not. A criminal procedure has no payday for the attorneys. And a civil case just against Filner would be a small pay check. Now that the bomb has been tossed, each day that passes without a formal filing reduces everyone’s credibility.
Judith Wesling says
Well now I read that Gloria Allred will represent a woman in this “case” and there will be a press conference at 12:30. Of course, Gloria Allred. Who is paying her?
Doug Porter says
Allred works on spec in high profile cases. She gets a piece of the action and more publicity for her law firm.
Laura E. says
I was waiting for her to show up. Gloria has never seen a sexual harassment case that she couldn’t profit from.
Great article. Well reasoned and articulate. I just can’t understand why people don’t see the difference between due process for Mayor Filner vs. his being fit for office.
He deserves due process like anyone else. We don’t yet know enough to draw firm conclusions about what he is guilty of, though that may be better answered in a couple of hours at the Allred press conference. Due process is about him and he gets to have his day in court.
His fitness for office is another matter and independent of due process. Can he move the city forward, though its many problems, without political capital? I don’t think so. This is not about what’s best for Filner, but what’s best for the city.
I never liked Dick Murphy but I admired him for resigning when he realized he simply didn’t have the political capital (after technically losing to Donna Frye in the election) to effectively lead the city forward. What he did was honorable. He put the city first.
A sad situation – is it true, that to hold local office requires the approval of the wealthy Dougchesters? Are San Diegans limited to choices approved by these well known but nearly nameless rulers? Or shall we limit the right to run for office to only the flawless among us? A sure fired way to be ignored by the media is to offer no scandals. In context, Sanford has won, Spitzer and Weiner are leading. So…?
In contrast to your reaction, the only time I was disappointed in Dick Murphy was when he folded and resigned. What we got as a replacement was far inferior to his tenure. In my opinion, to put the city first he would have had to stay and fight.
Joe B. says
Finally, someone addressing the elephants in the room, the three circus performers Frye, Gonzalez and Briggs, with assist from another Gonzalez and Toni Atkins.
They are almost more embarrassing than Filner. And especially Donna Frye bellowing in front of that lynch mob last week. WOW! Crazy! And of course they’re crazy now, they’re stuck with this connection to Filner from the general election.
No wonder they’re bellowing, it’s their political futures at risk as well. Has nothing to do with helping the party. It’s all about self-preservation.
Douglas Scott says
I see the third alternative as the likely outcome. This is going to turn into a morality play with the protagonist seeking and finding redemption through contrition and the doing of good works in the form of educating himself and others about the evils of mistreating others, both women and employees (male and female).
Regarding Scott Lewis, it is now clear that the Voice of San Diego is just another Useless Tribune.
“After you’ve worked with a man a certain length of time, you come to know his habits, his values – you come to know him – and either he’s the kind who chases after women or he isn’t” —”Chinatown”
There are people in his office who witnessed, and by their silence, condoned Filner’s sexual harassment of women. Filner is guilty of using his position of power and authority to demean those he believed were beneath him and powerless. He should be held accountable—to what extent depends on the facts that are brought forward—not just for his own actions but as an example to those who remained silent. Recently a New York politician was fined 300k for sexual harassment. Once again depending on the extent of his guilt, I would be alright with Filner being fined, having that money go to an organization like Equality Now, and letting Filner serve out his one term, knowing that his political career was finished.
Frances O'Neill Zimmerman says
Thanks, Pete. We need Filner to counteract the myriad forces that prevent a liberal agenda for SanDiego from being realized. (Wags will say that includes first and foremost the Mayor himself, and I would not disagree, but only for a moment.) There is no question in my mind that Filner has the ideas, drive and vision for a much better San Diego than we have ever known. There is no one around that is his equal. With support he can do a good job. We need to hang in for the sake of the things we want to see changed.
Honestly, I was relieved to see Gloria Allred, dressed all in red, representing her client, the Gloria-Steinem look-alike Irene McCormack. Charges have been brought in Superior Court (avoiding the City). Filner will get representation and answer, defending himself. Finally, tardily there is due process. We don’t want a resignation; we want to move on, not forgetting why we voted for this guy in the first place and the good he can accomplish.
mel freilicher says
Jim’s perceptions seem precisely accurate to me. This is a no win situation: whatever happens to Filner’s tenure as mayor, he will not have the capital to effect progressive changes which he has advocated. There are NO other viable political figures to replace him in the current San Diego landscape that I’m aware of who are not either in the pockets of developers, or who have remained clear-headed in this crisis. The most that we can hope for seems to me an increasingly sophisticated and nuanced dialog both among progressives and the population at large about the nature of political/electoral power (which to some extent is already taking place here, and nationally): who’s attracted to it, what happens when they attempt to achieve it, and what other means may be available to ameliorate economic and social inequities which continue to overwhelm “America’s finest city.” PS. Gloria Allred–oy vey! Who’s paying her, indeed!