October 2, 2010

With Team Whitman furiously trying to spin away the story about Meg Whitman’s undocumented housekeeper and both sides preparing for today’s Univision debate in Fresno, Jerry Brown unloaded two new ads designed to keep Whitman on defense.

One is a positive saying Brown balanced budgets without raising taxes and took on Wall Street banks, mortgage scammers and public officials. “Knowledge and know-how that works for you” is the slogan — a subtle suggestion that he has it and she doesn’t.

The negative ad is far more compelling, saying the “real Meg Whitman” was caught reaping millions for insider stock deals when she was on the board of Goldman Sachs, using the words “conflict of interest” and “corrupt,” charging that she paid herself $120 million while laying off 10% of eBay’s workforce, and asking, “Shouldn’t character matter?”

As Calbuzz noted Friday, demonstrating character is exactly Whitman’s challenge, after it was revealed she had employed an illegal immigrant in her home for years — knowingly or not — before she started talking tough about cracking down on them. And with his pals in the SEIU on the air with an ad speaking to that issue, Brown attacked Whitman as a greedy Wall Street predator.

Whitman’s response was fast and furious. Said spokesperson Andrea Jones Rivera:

“This ad is an outright lie. Meg’s salary was under a million dollars and it was approved by the eBay board of directors.* After swearing that voters would ‘always get the truth’, Jerry Brown has abandoned his promise in favor of a smear campaign that intentionally distorts the truth. In the ad, Jerry Brown goes so far as to cynically attack Meg’s brief service on the Goldman Sachs board, despite the fact that Brown’s own sister is currently a high ranking executive at Goldman Sachs. The truth is Meg Whitman was rated one of the top bosses and CEOs for her time at eBay and we will put her business record up against Jerry’s 40 year political career anytime.”

Meanwhile, Whitman continues to pummel Brown as a tax-and-spend liberal who opposed Proposition 13 and drove up unemployment and the state deficit. Surely that’s why Brown argues himself in his positive ad: “As Governor, I’ll cap government salaries and pensions. On the budget – we have to face reality. Make do with what we have, and no taxes without voter approval.”

Polling suggests voters appreciate Whitman’s business background but they aren’t sure they like her or that she’s got the skills and experience (“knowledge and know-how”) to command California government. On the other hand, they know Brown has what it takes to be governor and they like him pretty much; they’re just not sure they can trust him not to pick their pocket.

Although jobs, budgets, environment, water, education and public safety are kinds of issues governors actually must confront, the curbside political world is wondering today how eMeg’s housekeeper issue will come up in the Univision debate — with an expected audience of millions of Latinos — and what Whitman and Brown will say about it.

No doubt, Whitman would like to be asked why, after hammering on the issue of illegal immigration, did she not report Nicky Diaz to the authorities after learning that she was here without documentation. That way she can come across as sympathetic (although she has to be careful not to sound too condescending).

She likely would not like to be asked why she didn’t use a teensy weensy portion of her vast wealth to hire Diaz an immigration attorney or whether she actually said, “You never have seen me and I have never seen you,” as Diaz recounts the conversation. (Of course, denying it is calling Nicky a liar, so that’s tricky, too.)

Brown, the betting suggests, will keep his trap shut and let Whitman stew in her own juices unless Meg charges to his face that he was behind the whole episode. At which point, it’s hard to predict. He could cooly note that it was not he who hired an illegal immigrant to work in her house. Or he could fire back at how outraged he is to be accused of the “politics of personal destruction.” We’ll know soon enough.
* Thank you Steve Harmon for this reportorial note: “Salaries are rarely the true measure of a CEO’s net worth in their rarified world of dividends, stocks and bonuses. Forbes Magazine, in September, 2008, and the New York Times, reported that Whitman received a $120.4 million, in salary, bonus and the value of her excercised options in her final year, despite eBay’s stock plummeting 49 percent.”

Meyer Carefully Evaluates Meg’s Skills

The slashing pen of Tom Meyer, world renowned editorial cartoonist and dressed-to-the-nines Calbuzzer extraordinaire today examines the deeper political implications of eMeg’s using the famous phrase, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result,” multiple times during her Tuesday night debate with Jerry Brown.

Us, we’re still wondering why Her Megness used the aphorism over and over and kept expecting a different result; like, maybe somebody might actually laugh when she repeated it, oh say, the 13th or 14th time. Must be that exquisite sense of comic timing she has to go with her wonderful ability to laugh at herself and her highly-developed sense of self-awareness.

All that aside, a wide-ranging Calbuzz investigation of more than 10 minutes worth of Googling reveals that there is not a single shred of citable evidence to support her attribution of the quote to Albert Einstein (not a big week for Meg and documentary evidence). There is , in fact, a considerable debate around the internets about the original source, with the current conventional wisdom crediting Rita Mae Brown, who actually did write it down in a book once. You could look it up.

And speaking of misusing hoary phrases: Calbuzz was appalled this week by the widespread misuse of the phrase “October surprise” to describe the bombshell news about Whitman’s housekeeper, which Gloria Allred dropped on the candidate’s head on Wednesday morning.

In his essential “Political Dictionary,” the late great William Safire traced the phrase back to the 1980 presidential election, when then Republican vice presidential candidate George Bush the Elder warned that President Jimmy Carter “is a politically tough fellow, he’ll do anything to get reelected, and let’s be prepared for some October surprise.”

Of course, it turned out that the surprise was on Carter, as the Iran hostage crisis that had bedeviled him for much of his term was instantly resolved when the Ayatollah Khomeini ordered the release of the hostages shortly after Mr. Jimmy lost to Ronald Reagan. Safire continues:

By 1991, the noun phrase was being applied to any controversial or unpleasant event in October. (emphasis ours)

Let’s be blunt: The Allred-Nicky Diaz press conference triggering the Meg and the Maid drama took place on Wednesday, September 29; while it might qualify as a “September Shocker,” it most definitely was not an “October Surprise.”

And while we’re at it: Let’s make it perfectly clear that eMeg’s big laugh line at the debate – making Jerry governor is like “putting Dracula in charge of a blood bank” – is a total rip off from none other than…Jane Fonda. Hanoi Jane used the line in whacking Carter for his appointment of James Schlesinger as Energy Secretary about the same time that October became so surprising:

To read entire story, click here.