national opinion

Monday Column
Carol Platt Liebau

[go to Liebau index]

Latest Column:
Stopping the Meltdown
What Beltway Republicans Need To Do

Subscribe to CRO Alerts
Sign up for a weekly notice of CRO content updates.

Jon Fleischman’s
The premier source for
California political news

Michael Ramirez

editorial cartoon

Do your part to do right by our troops.
They did the right thing for you.
Donate Today

CRO Talk Radio
Contributor Sites
Laura Ingraham

Hugh Hewitt
Eric Hogue
Sharon Hughes
Frank Pastore
[Radio Home]

















David Hackett - Contributor

A Surplus of Candor
The Surprising Frankness of Art Torres
[David Hackett] 9/16/03

After Arnold Schwarzenegger had confirmed his decision to avoid the Walnut Creek recall debate, the local police were a little underwhelmed. Given a chance to escape their normal boredom, they had introduced an ambitious security plan, with checkpoints and barricades galore. Without a strongman, though, their anticipated circus was nowhere to be found. The debate itself was a similar case study in under-performing expectations, with the possible exception of Tom McClintock's polished appearance.

I had come to the debate to see fireworks, but instead found a good deal of blowing smoke. Bored with Arianna Huffington's repeated anti-Bush rhetoric, I headed for the pressroom's catered spread. Halfway through a ham sandwich, a familiar face appeared. It was Art Torres, chairman of the California Democratic party. Torres and I had a history - well, at least in my mind, we did.

During my days as a member of the UCLA Bruin Republicans, we had devised a satirical stunt to publicize our stance on Proposition 209 and the Michigan case: an "Affirmative Action Bake Sale." To indicate the skewed, racist values of the preference-system, we had formulated a race-based cookie pricing system. At the high end were white males and Asian Americans paying two dollars per cookie, while African Americans would shell out a mere 25 cents.

The Bake Sale was an excellent technique for political confrontation and a simple illustration of the Bruin Republicans' feelings on the Affirmative Action issue. It was not, however, an event that itself provoked more than a day of discussion with liberal students (many of whom grew confused and took the event as yet another example of Republicans' racist values). It may be an idealistic cliché that "a small group of dedicated people, working together, can change the world," but in reality 20 conservative kids on a huge campus have almost no chance of getting their event noticed by the media.

Unless, of course, the Democratic state party chair uses his office and the requisite clout it provides to issue a press release attacking the kids and their event as racist. Unless he sends this press release to almost every major media outlet in Los Angeles, the second-largest media market in America. Unless, from an objective standpoint, he hoists himself on his own petard. Torres had done us a big favor, and I wanted to express my gratitude.

I approached him with a smile. "Mr. Torres?"

"Hi there." A firm handshake.

"I'm a member of the UCLA Bruin Republicans, and I wanted to thank you for giving our Affirmative Action Bake Sale the free publicity a few months back. Without your press release we would never have gotten so much media attention." I braced myself for a scowling retreat, but instead got a grin.

"Is that so?" laughed Torres. "Well, I never got those cookies you guys tried to send me after the press release went out. You guys sent 'em to (party spokesman Bob) Mulholland's office down in LA instead, and he didn't save any for me," he continued, in mock disappointment. His disarming charm had skillfully transitioned a wiseacre remark into a friendly conversation.

Of course, the discourse focused on matters political. What was his analysis of the debate? "I think McClintock did a good job today. I really respect Tom from my days serving with him in the Senate. Of course, I don't agree with him."

What about Arnold's chances?

"With Tom in the race, he can't win."

"But what about Bustamante's flip-flops?" I countered. "He flip-flopped on abortion, he flip-flopped on the car registration hike, he flip-flopped on the recall itself!"

"You're forgetting (his flip-flop on) the immigrants' driver license issue. No one has exposed that one yet," Torres reminded me, as I listened in astonishment. I was amazed that he would point out unnoticed flaws in his own party's leading candidate without going off the record. After we had nodded agreement regarding Arianna's treachery and irrelevance, thoughts turned to presidential politics.

"Karl Rove has you guys figured out!" was my opening volley. "He's got you so convinced you'll lose in 2004 that you've decided to nominate the guy you really want - Dean - and then he's going to lose the general election. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy."
Torres once again answered with a hearty laugh. "Maybe. But you know who my dream candidate is? Lieberman."

"But he'll never get the nomination."

"I know," he admitted. "That's why he's my dream candidate." Another Cheshire grin, before we parted ways.

I walked back to my seat wondering what to make of our conversation. What did this friendly yet strange encounter say about Torres's qualities as a party chair?
To be sure, one essential quality of an effective party chair is his political skill. Part of being an effective politician is relating - making a voter one has never met before, for example, feel like an important voice with worthwhile concerns. If my conversation with Torres is any indication, he is an excellent party chair in this regard. After all, many on the left would have walked away from my initially-confrontational conservatism.

But another quality of an effective party chair is his skill as a spokesman. And, as anyone with experience in public relations can attest, part of being an effective spokesman is knowing not only when to speak, but when not to speak. Would a good spokesman have created controversy, publicity, and credibility for a virtually unnoticed "Bake Sale"? For that matter, would a good spokesman have pointed out weaknesses in his own party's candidate to media outsiders? Obviously not, of course.

The Bruin Republicans had created little more than a tempest in a teapot with our small event. Torres's heated press release, undoubtedly intended to light the fires of the party's liberal minority base, instead vaulted us into the arms of the Wall Street Journal and the Rush Limbaugh show, igniting conservative passions nationwide and spawning copycat sales at Berkeley and Michigan. Clearly, a smarter Democratic strategy would have been to ignore (and therefore marginalize) the event.

Why, then, did Torres blunder? There are two possibilities. One is that he misunderstood the satire of the event for actual racism (similar to the dull-witted liberal students). The other is that he got the joke, felt the need to refute it immediately, and put his foot in his mouth. Either possibility reflects poorly on him, though the latter certainly seems more likely in light of his ill-considered remarks to me during the debate.

The bottom line is that Torres's surplus of candor undermines Democratic political goals. Conservative Californians should take heed of this and do everything they can to light his fuse and/or loosen his lips. Democrats, of course, should take heed of this and give him a life term as chair.

copyright 2003 David Hackett



Blue Collar -  120x90
120x90 Jan 06 Brand
Free Trial Static 02
ActionGear 120*60
Free Trial Static 01
Applicable copyrights indicated. All other material copyright 2003-2005