Flogging the Dog

CHAMELEON BLUES: Poor Dan Secord. It’s not an easy time to be a Republican. It’s even harder to run as one. It’s Dan’s unhappy lot in life to run as a moderate, enlightened, bike-path Republican for a spot on the County Board of Supervisors at precisely the time that the true-believers, flat-Earthers, and witch burners controlling that party have finally fallen into their well-earned and overdue public disgrace. Dan is campaigning in the solidly Democratic 2nd District — which includes most of Goleta and parts of Santa Barbara — making the rope he is attempting to pee up considerably taller than the Storke Tower and the Balboa Building put together. And if he weren’t so bristly, I might be tempted to give the guy a hug.

It took a lot to get here. Mainstream America seemed remarkably unperturbed by 3,000 Americans getting killed in a war waged on false pretenses, the 650,000 dead Iraqis whose souls will haunt us for decades to come, the evisceration of our Bill of Rights, and the fatal criminal negligence exhibited by the Bush administration in the face of Hurricane Katrina. Likewise, most people experienced little cognitive discomfort regarding the widespread corruption and wholesale deceit emanating from an administration that sanctified its excesses in the rhetorical oil of “moral values.” But when Mark Foley, a smarmy Republican congressmember from Florida, got caught trying to perpetuate the daisy chain of his own sexual abuse, everything changed. The entire nation went bat guano over a few improper text messages.

All of a sudden, it’s “what-did-you-know-and-when-did-you-know-it?” all over again. Obviously, none of this speaks well of our moral maturity as a nation. But right now, I’ll take any help I can get. The Foley Scandal seems to have neutralized the Republicans’ weapon of choice—homophobia. Religious-minded blacks and Latinos who were flirting with the GOP are fleeing in large numbers. Evangelical voters, tired of being played for suckers, will stay home in droves come Election Day.

As a result, the GOP war machine has been forced to rely on the old stand-by: racism. In the Tennessee Senate race, the GOP just produced television ads on behalf of a Caucasian Republican running against an African-American Democrat that plays explicitly to white fears about black men having sex with white women. In Virginia, the GOP standard bearer — the son of former L.A. Rams coach George Allen—is given to hurling ethnic epithets in public and proudly flies the Confederate flag. Like the president, Allen is strictly a spray-on redneck, and his carefully crafted good-ol’-boy credentials have been tarnished by recent revelations that he’s of Jewish descent.

Compared to this, Dr. Dan’s desperate contortions to beat out Janet Wolf — who’s about as moderate a Democrat as he is a Republican — for the nominally nonpartisan 2nd District seat have been dignified and restrained. Last week, I found a large color campaign brochure parked in my mailbox, courtesy of the Secord campaign, accusing Janet of being a developer’s sheep in wolf’s clothing. To prove his point, Dr. Dan — shown smiling in front of the oh-so-blue Pacific Ocean — revealed that Wolf has been endorsed by the Home Builders Association (HBA). He is correct, but it’s a funny charge. It’s funny because the HBA actually endorsed Secord in the June primary, back when there were four candidates in the race. Presumably, when the HBA had Secord’s back, they were okay. But now that they’ve switched sides — being fickle opportunists who sensed Wolf was the odds-on favorites — he would like us to believe the HBA and other developers are trying to take over the Goleta Valley for their own greedy ends.

Of the two, my sense is that Dan will give greater weight to property rights when deciding how hard to squeeze developers for affordable housing or environmental considerations. In the Goleta Valley, where affordable housing has become a dirty word, this has given Dan a leg up with the ever-inflamed NIMBY crowd. It’s worth remembering that when Secord was still sitting on the Santa Barbara City Council, he was the candidate of choice for the business and development crowd. Talk about being upside down. Sometimes I find myself forced to agree with James Brown — the Godfather of Soul — who exclaimed, “Man, I don’t even know what a Goleta is!” when queried a few years ago about rumors that he might be moving to the Good Land.

In politics, everything is personal, especially when you’re losing. At forums, it’s clear that Wolf gets under Secord’s skin. Part of that’s by design. For a while, Wolf took to calling Dan “Mister Secord,” rather than “Doctor Secord,” which, with 6,000 babies delivered, is one of his genuine claims to fame. Giving this a dose of bitter irony, Secord saved the life of Wolf’s campaign manager, James Kyriaco, as an infant by untangling the umbilical chord wrapped around his neck. To the extent this name-game qualified as an insidious form of psychological warfare, Wolf has reportedly relented. But she’s still attacking on the more obvious levels. Rather than running from Secord’s accusations that she will be a stooge of all “the union bosses” who endorsed her, Wolf held a press conference celebrating their support. It’s worth noting that in Dr. Dan’s last City Council campaign—immediately after the September 11 attack — his campaign brochures highlighted his support from the police and firefighters unions.

But back in the ashes of 9/11, the police and firefighters were still heroes. That was then. Now we’re back to normal and they’re “union bosses” again. It’s also worth noting that at Secord’s campaign kick-off party, the first person invited to speak on Dr. Dan’s behalf was Santa Barbara Fire Captain Pat McElroy. That night, McElroy spoke highly of Dan’s direct manner, hard work, and obvious intelligence, but when pressed shied away from actually endorsing him. Since then, McElroy and his union have come out strongly on behalf of Wolf.

That’s not to say it’s a slam dunk and that Wolf will win or that the Democrats will win control of the House and Senate for the first time in years. Few people have ever gone broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people, and likewise, no one should underestimate the ability of the Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. But as Dan Secord can attest, it sure is a hard time for Republicans.

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