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Neel Kashkari's week as a homeless person: Shedding light on Calif. poverty or publicity stunt?

PoliticsElectionsNeel KashkariGovernment
GOP gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari spent a week living on the streets as a homeless person

Yes, Virginia, the Republicans are running someone against California Gov. Jerry Brown. His name is Neel Kashkari.

Kashkari has been virtually invisible throughout what has passed for the campaign. (Not literally. There is no evidence that he has mastered the ability to bend light around himself so as to render his physical form undetectable to the human eye. Just in the media, which decided that he wasn't worth covering because he probably won't win. Which is true, since the media won't cover him. Funny how that works.)

What do you do when the struggle for visibility gets tough?

Publicity stunt!

In what his supporters would probably say was an earnest attempt to showcase the ongoing problem of unemployment and underemployment in California despite the economic "recovery" — if anyone bothered to ask his supporters — and what everyone else, including pundits, would call a cheap ploy, Kashkari says he spent a week playacting as a homeless person in search of work.

Seema Mehta of The Times reports:

"Kashkari wrote that he took a Greyhound bus from Los Angeles to Fresno on July 21 with 'only $40 in my pocket (and no credit cards), a backpack, a change of clothes and a toothbrush.' He said he planned to find a job. "I am an able-bodied 41-year-old. Surely I could find some work. 'Kashkari was accompanied by two videographers, who produced a 10-minute video. The footage shows a scruffy Kashkari saying, 'This has been one of the hardest weeks of my life.' "

All Gen X smirkery aside, I think it's admirable that any politician, especially a Republican — the difference between Democrats and Republicans is that Republicans don't even pretend to care about poor people — is drawing attention to the misery experienced by millions of Californians suffering through grinding poverty with no foreseeable end in sight. Sure, Kashkari is a multimillionaire who got to go home when it was over. But when's the last time you slept outside to see what it was like? I don't even like camping.

So, good on Kashkari.

Still, I have some logistical and logical questions for him.

Like, why Fresno? The economy isn't that bad there, relatively.

Why 40 bucks? Why not $20 or $100?

Did the $5 bus fare come out of the $40?

Did he panhandle? Steal food? I would. 

Why was a toothbrush essential, but not floss? Was there toothpaste, and if not, why not, and if so, why wasn't it mentioned? How about mouthwash? (Note to Brown's opposition research team: Kashkari's commitment to oral hygiene halfhearted at best; 92% of voters say 'ewww.')

When the Man Who Would Be Governor approached foremen at Fresno-area construction sites, how eager for work did he appear? After all, this was an experiment that would have failed mightily had his able-bodied 41-year-old self been scooped off the mean streets of the Raisin Capital and offered a zillion bucks to run a hedge fund. Did he, full of honesty and integrity, pledge to work hard at low wages with little concern for his personal safety? Or was he all Little Lord Fauntleroy about it: "I don't do sweat, dude"?

So many questions. I'd ask them all too. But that would be against the rules. He's a long-shot gubernatorial candidate, and I'm a pundit.

Follow Ted Rall on Twitter @tedrall

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