They don't say

by Anthony Pignataro | February 5, 2010 1:51 pm

Feb. 5, 2010

The best press conference I ever covered featured a crooked Republican city councilman in Orange County who had a round belly and a big mouth but little actual thought of how to save his own skin. Surrounded by skeptical reporters and a reluctant but determined district attorney, he gathered the press to defend himself against myriad corruption allegations. The high point of the afternoon occurred when he told a reporter, “There is no difference between what I said and didn’t say.”

I’ve never found a more elegant or concise denunciation of American politicians. With very few exceptions, there is no difference whatsoever between what an elected official tells constituents, and what the official does not tell them. There is equal meaning in their verbiage, and in their silence.

Take, for example, Sen. Abel Maldonado. During his Feb. 3 Senate confirmation hearing to be lieutenant governor, Maldonado said that, “Every day I drive past those oil platforms, and every day I’ve made myself a promise that I will do whatever I can to bring those platforms down.”

Don’t even try to find meaning in that. Does Maldonado actually think we’ll believe that every day he promises himself that he will raise an insurrection against further oil drilling off the California coast? This is what he tells himself as he drives to work every day? Is this assurance mere contempt for voters’ cognitive abilities, or does he actually believe that normal people who do not stand for election think these things and talk this way?

Then we have gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner, who this week decided that an arrogant e-mail message from a moronic Meg Whitman campaign minion promising to put him “through the wood chipper” required a criminal investigation and the words, “This is not an attempt to be hardball and to be aggressive, but this is an attempt to effectively manipulate the election process, the integrity of the election process, by issuing these threats behind the scenes to get me not to run.”

Effectively manipulate? Integrity of the election process? Does Poizner actually think that whining to law enforcement wins votes? Does his attempt to turn a brutal but hardly surprising campaign message into a legal matter help voters in any way, shape or form understand the core issues at stake in the governor’s race?

In a way, Whitman is a visionary in this regard. There literally is no difference between what she says and doesn’t say because she doesn’t say anything at all. At times, her absolute refusal to talk to the press in anything less than a rigidly scripted, managed forum has led me to wonder whether she exists at all.

Whitman is nothing more than a marketing plan, crafted by consultants, promoted by strategists and focus group-tested until all her base humanity has been skimmed off. Even conference calls are apparently tightly orchestrated, less she stray a millimeter from what her handlers believe she should say.

And yet with all that protection, she screws up and says something that causes ears to prick up. Witness the revelation that her newest television ad contains a lie about how long she’s lived in California (30 years, instead of the actual 23). Passed off as a mere math error (“Meg moved to California with her husband in 1981 and has considered herself a Californian ever since,” Whitman’s press secretary told the Sacramento Bee, nicely side-stepping the fact that Whitman lived in Massachusetts from 1992 to 1998), the whole controversy is in fact far less than even that. That she has no idea how long she’s lived in California is amusing and pathetic, but it tells us nothing about what she would do if elected governor.

Whitman, like Poizner and Maldonado, simply has nothing of value to say. Their goal is to say whatever they think they need to say to get elected. For that reason, the voters would be better off if they just said nothing at all.

-Anthony Pignataro

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