Campaign '94: Much Ado About Practically Nothing

Robin Abcarian's column is published Wednesdays and Sundays

Say, have you heard people talking about the tough-talking former Marine and the steely grandmother with a heart?

No, it's not the latest thriller to hit the big screen. It's not that trashy bestseller everyone's talking about.

It's the race for California governor.

And everywhere you go, nobody is talking about it.

I guess that's because most people don't vote, and those of us who do have already made up our minds about who we want for governor. The polls show that. They also show that the voters capable of swaying the election will come from a narrow category: disaffected Democrats and Republicans who are willing to switch allegiances.

Thus, a relatively small number of people will likely determine in November whether Pete Wilson gets yet another term or the state gets yet another Brown.

With two moderate candidates trying like mad to distinguish themselves for the disgruntled few, the fight turns on nuances, personalities and who can make the most ado about nothing.

Political campaigns seem to get more and more insulting to the voters' intelligence.

Has a political commercial ever really changed your mind on an issue or a candidate?

If you are an engaged voter, you can't help but watch them believing--or at least hoping--they are not intended for you. It's not just that they are made for the undecided or the uninformed. They seem to be made for morons.

The real issues are far too complicated to distill. So from both sides, we get sweeping generalities and unprovable assertions, and the truth ends up more twisted than quake-ravaged rebar.

A "tax cut for the rich" accusation leveled by one candidate at another turns out to be a failure to extend a temporary tax increase after the end of 1995. It's too complicated to explain, really, so why bother?

And black-and-white footage of people streaming across a border is supposed to convince us not that the impoverished will risk their lives for work--that's what I think every time I see it--but that the opposing candidate is soft on illegal immigration.

Frankly, the only aspect of this election season that promises to provide any fun is the slugfest being waged by our candidates for U.S. Senate. Or by one of them anyway. I wouldn't mind reading about more stupid candidate tricks, which Michael Huffington is pioneering as an election tactic.

Last week in Washington, Huffington crashed a small, private Democratic fund-raiser--after alerting the press, naturally--in order to accuse his opponent, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and her hostess of misrepresenting his positions. Where did they do this? On the party invitations.

Hey, why deal with the issues that people really care about when creating meaningless confrontations is so much easier?


Perhaps the watchdogs of government--that would be us--are to blame for allowing the candidates to exploit non-critical issues. In the absence of major ideological differences, we tend to blow the minor ones out of proportion.

Maybe it's our fault the Wilson camp is so devoted to flaying Kathleen Brown for having moral qualms over the death penalty. Brown says she will enforce the law, she says she will appoint judges who will uphold the death penalty. So why is this an issue?

It's grossly unfair for Wilson to harp on the pangs of conscience experienced by Brown's father, Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, when he weighed the fate of Death Row prisoners during his term of office. Pat Brown sent 36 prisoners to the gas chamber and granted clemency to 23. That's a lot of death on any man's hands. No wonder he tried to abolish the death penalty. He had more firsthand experience with it than almost anyone.

And, frankly, I'm more comfortable with the notion of a chief executive who expresses ethical misgivings over killing criminals than with one who blithely states--as Wilson does--that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime in the absence of any hard proof.

Wilson has sent only one man to the gas chamber since he took office in 1991.

Clearly, the resurrection of the death penalty has done nothing to solve the big problems we face. It doesn't improve schools, it doesn't keep libraries open, get people off welfare, bring back jobs or make streets safer.

It's a crowd pleaser, though. Much ado about practically nothing.

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