Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Letter from California-Splinter in the Eye

“Why do you notice the splinter that is in your brother’s eye, but you don’t notice the wood beam that is in your own?” The Gospel of St. Matthew, Chapter 7

The last few days of this California Recall election have gone ugly, as you’ve probably heard. I heard someone the other day say that Governor Davis may not yet be toast, but he is certainly warm bread at this point. Arnold, by contrast, has probably had an assistant calling the Sacramento Gold’s Gym to see if they have any marble parking spots that would be coming available anytime soon. It’s tense and the stakes are high. Davis, a famous negative campaigner with the personal charisma of an ATM machine, does not want to join the small club of major American politicians to be recalled. For this reason, he has jumped all over the reports of Arnold’s history as a serial groper of women, using them to take the one shot he has left.

So, we now have an incredibly unpopular Governor suggesting that the police should investigate Schwarzenegger for the groping incidents as a criminal matter with a stern and serious look. Like a Sunday School teacher scolding a naughty child, Davis wants to convey his moral disdain with Schwarzenegger’s conduct. “Really, folks,” he seems to be saying, “you’re not going to vote for a person who molests women, are you?”

The events of the last couple of days make me wonder what would inspire anyone who could make a living doing anything else decide to take up politics. You probably heard about the “Hitler” comment earlier in the week. Sometime in the 70s, when Arnold’s grip on the English language was still slippery at best, he said that he “admired” Adolf Hitler’s ability to keep a crowd in the palm of his hand and influence them. He went on to say that he didn’t admire “what he did with it.” This has been translated into the accusation that Schwarzenegger said that he “admired Hitler.”

It’s hard to get nuances right when you’re speaking a foreign language. I once lived in Japan, and while I was there, I visited the memorial park to the victims of the Hiroshima bombing. When I came back to work the next week and mentioned it (in Japanese) to one of my students, he was shocked to hear how I felt about it. What I meant to say was that it was “interesting” or “fascinating” but what I said, given my limited command of the language, was that I found the Hiroshima Atomic bomb site “amusing.” Needless to say, he was not amused, but he was patient and corrected my mistake. If I ever run for public office, that’s one little gem that I’m sure my opponents would love to be able to use.

But if political success comes from being most astute at finding and publicizing those rotten things your opponent has done, we’re in trouble. It didn’t start with Davis, of course. Bill Clinton got his fair share when in office, and George W. is getting it now. Davis just happens to be famous for dishing it out.

Inevitably, someone like Davis gets some of it coming back his way. A great example is an article that you probably didn’t see in Sunday’s Los Angeles Daily News. In it, Jill Stewart reports that in 1997, she investigated two claims by employees of then Lieutenant Governor Gray Davis that he has physically assaulted them during fits of anger while at work. One of the women, a 62-year old secretary, is said to have come back to work only under the condition that she be put in a different part of the building where Davis promised never to come. You can read the whole story at www.jillstewart.net. Are the stories true? Maybe. The source is reputable and the reporter has a long and illustrious career. Davis can’t really expect to get the benefit of the doubt, but so far the story.

Everybody’s done bad and shameful things in life, and if you’re looking hard enough, you’ll find them. Can anyone stand up to such a standard? If we reduce these two men, Schwarzenegger and Davis, to the “groper” and the “violent boss,” who would want to go vote at all? If we’re constantly looking to find the sins of others as a way to tear them down, we will almost inevitably be destroyed one day ourselves.

Everyone’s familiar with “judge not lest ye be judged,” but fewer people know the line that follows. Maybe our politicians and their campaign managers should commit it to memory. It goes like this: “for with such measure as you judge, so shall you be judged.”

As a person who once said he thought the Hiroshima bombing was funny, I’m inclined to give all the candidates a little break. It’s been a tough six weeks.