THE OTHER WHITE MEAT: It’s getting a lot harder to be white people these days. Hostess Twinkies and Wonder Bread — ethnic food for the pigmentally challenged — appeared poised to go extinct last week, which explains the news tip I received about a frenzied run on Twinkies allegedly taking place at Smart & Final last week. The good news is that a judge has prevented Hostess from pulling the plug on itself. The bad news, of course, is the startling new discovery of the great “demographic shift” that led to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s defeat two weeks ago. White people, it turns out, no longer make up such an overwhelmingly huge majority of the voting public, just a really big chunk of same. In this context, a candidate like Romney — not so much a white extremist as he is extremely white — proved an obvious detriment to whichever sides he happened to be on. As a card-carrying Caucasian — my wife once told me I was “too white” even for polka — I’m troubled to hear pundits speak about the so-called “white” voting bloc as if we’re some kind of unified and monolithic entity like women, Latinos, gays, Asians, blacks, and all the rest of you people. Yes, white people tend to live longer and make much more money than the rest of you, but aside from such superficial similarities, we have surprisingly little in common with each other. Until relatively recently, for example, it wasn’t clear whether Catholics should be included in the club. Likewise with Italians. And if white women insist on voting contrary to the party line, perhaps their membership needs to be reexamined.
Rush Limbaugh, the ayatollah of the airwaves, famously accused younger women voters — who turned out in large numbers for President Barack Obama — of allowing the Democratic president to lead them around “by their vaginas.” I suppose it’s refreshing to hear someone other than men be accused of thinking with their sexual organs, but if Republicans hope to be taken seriously, they’d do well to lock their gynophobes and suicide bombers in a nuclear-waste bunker somewhere in the Utah desert. On the national stage, the results have been obvious. But it’s worth highlighting that to our immediate south, Republican Tony Strickland — a genuinely affable right-wing extremist who represented Santa Barbara in the state senate — was beaten by liberal Democrat Julia Brownley in their contest over the newly constituted 26th Congressional District. This qualifies as Big News because Republicans have represented this district — which has included sizable portions of Santa Barbara County — for 70 years. For 26 of those years, it was Elton Gallegly who did the representing — if you can call it that. Gallegly’s chief claim to fame — aside from not returning phone calls — has been the tirelessness with which he sought to restrict the definition of citizenship as articulated by the Founding Fathers in the U.S. Constitution. Anyone born in the United States is — and has been — deemed a citizen, even if their parents were not. Gallegly, the sort of anti-immigrant crusader that makes Latinos join the other party, attempted to rewrite the constitution to require that one or both parents be legal residents for citizenship to be bestowed upon the children. Though he failed at that, Gallegly did win passage of a bill banning animal snuff videos that the Supreme Court would later reject as being an assault on free speech. To be fair, Gallegly does deserve praise for getting the air-tanker base in Santa Maria — crucial for fighting forest fires — back to full-time status.
Where Gallegly’s district was overwhelmingly Republican, the new district boundaries lost much of its Twinkie-eating cohort and retired-police-officer voting bloc and now tilts strongly Democratic. While Strickland never said anything outrageously offensive on the subjects of “legitimate rape” and abortion, he did sign a pledge in 1998 to ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest. And every year he served, he was awarded 100-percent approval ratings from the National Right to Life foundation. Brownley, who coincidentally happens to be a woman, made a point to highlight these facts. She also reminded voters how Strickland voted against an effort to restore funding for domestic-violence programs, cut by then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009. As a result, five domestic-violence shelters in Ventura County shut down. Santa Barbara’s very own Planned Parenthood was up to its elbows in independent-expenditure efforts targeting Strickland in this race. Beyond the money, Planned Parenthood used social media to target undecided women between the ages of 18 and 45. It also targeted Republican women old enough to remember the good old days before the Supreme Court legalized abortion with the Roe v. Wade decision. When the dust had settled, Planned Parenthood was responsible for posting 720,000 political pop-up ads that ran on various websites frequented by this target demographic. It also placed 7,000 phone calls. Next to Bill Clinton’s endorsement, the Brownley campaign considered Planned Parenthood’s the most important. And for good reason. Although Strickland raised $400,000 more, Brownley won by nearly 11,000 votes.
Although off subject, it’s worth remembering how Strickland — a shameless shill for the plastic-bag industry among many others — pushed legislation that would require big-lettered warnings be posted on the sides of eco-friendly tote bags that they “can cause serious illness from food-borne pathogens.” In an earlier draft, Strickland suggested the warning include reference to cancer and birth defects, too. By contrast, Brownley helped lead the charge on behalf of a statewide ban on plastic bags during her stint in Sacramento.
That women would be so influential comes as no surprise to Santa Barbara. Back in 1542, Juan Cabrillo became the first white man to ever lay eyes on Santa Barbara, then the thriving Chumash village of Syuxtun — which he dubbed “Los Pueblos de las Sardinas” or “Sardine City” for short. Cabrillo was particularly struck by the fact that Syuxtun was run by a woman chief, and a very powerful one at that.
In the meantime, have a great Thanksgiving, and please pass the Twinkies.