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Carol Platt Liebau - Columnist

Carol Platt Liebau is a senior member of the editorial board. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNN, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review.


The Compliment of Being Taken Seriously
Cruz, Tom and Media Coverage of the Recall
[Carol Platt Liebau] 9/15/03   

Few young women today have any meaningful memories of the pre-feminist era. As evidenced by the popular culture of those earlier times, however, it’s clear that the status quo against which many feminists rebelled had little to do with crudely misogynist behavior. In fact, men back then were expected to treat women with great courtesy – holding doors, carrying packages, surrendering seats on public transportation. And it certainly wasn’t acceptable to refer to women as “ho’s.”

One can’t help feeling a twinge of nostalgia for the bygone days of chivalry. But no female can unreservedly pine for a past where, too often, women and their aspirations simply weren’t taken seriously. Women were welcome in the boardroom, but mostly as secretaries. They were welcome in the courtroom, but mostly as paralegals. And, on the whole, their most valuable currency was their cuteness.

Clearly, underlying early feminism was an understanding that it is a compliment to be taken seriously, even if the resulting attention isn’t always flattering. And today, this insight is equally valid, especially as applied to the governor’s race. The issue of being taken seriously (or not) informs the media coverage of two of the top contenders for the California governorship – Cruz Bustamante and Tom McClintock.

Cruz Bustamante and his candidacy are certainly being covered by the media, but they are hardly being taken seriously. Just last week, as reported by The Sacramento Bee’s Daniel Weintraub in his outstanding blog, Cruz told an audience of 2,000 in Fresno that California’s budget woes are due primarily to the energy crisis.

Of course, the average voter wouldn’t necessarily realize that his sky-high energy costs (to which Gray Davis committed all of us) aren’t coming out of the state budget – they’re being paid by the rate-payers, in the form of higher energy bills. But a sitting lieutenant governor, former assembly leader, and major party candidate for governor should be expected to know this. And if he makes a massive misstatement, he should be held to account either for his ignorance – or for his deception. But the press, on the whole, has been strangely silent.

Nor has the press discussed Cruz’s ties to MEChA with any real seriousness. The organization may in fact be as innocuous as its proponents claim – but its catchphrase (“For the race, everything; for those outside the race, nothing”) is racist. Cruz doesn’t have to condemn the group, but he certainly should have been pressed about whether he disavows that slogan, and all it implies. And compare the coverage of Cruz’s MEChA ties with what would have been the reaction had Arnold Schwarzenegger’s past turned up evidence of membership in a “Caucasian pride” group with a similar slogan. Mass hysteria would have ensued.

Finally, consider Cruz’s educational background. The fifty-year-old lieutenant governor is a 2003 graduate of Fresno State. Make no mistake – educational credentials are no guarantee of either success or intellect; there are many kinds of intelligence, and degrees measure only one. Even so, had Arnold Schwarzenegger graduated from college only this year, it’s likely that all of us would have been treated to countless condescending observations about Arnold’s body being infinitely more developed than his mind. (After all, Cruz’s supporters are many of the people who delight in deriding President Bush’s intellect, notwithstanding his Andover/Yale/Harvard Business School degrees).

In short, in a number of significant ways, the press has declined to treat Bustamante, his background and his candidacy with the seriousness that California voters have the right to expect. The motivation behind the press’ obvious reluctance to report critically on the Bustamante campaign is, in the end, deeply ironic.

The phenomenon can’t be entirely explained by liberal press bias. Rather, something more insidious is at work – a form of “soft bigotry” and low expectations. Many of the politically-correct liberals who dominate the press are simply unwilling to take Bustamante and his campaign seriously because he is Latino – and they have no wish to be called racists. And so, ironically, they engage in the very prejudice they are striving to avoid – inadvertently suggesting that Cruz is unable to withstand the kind of scrutiny that other candidates for high office routinely endure.

Across the political spectrum, the press has chosen to treat State Senator Tom McClintock’s candidacy with a similar lack of seriousness. Sure, McClintock has received more favorable coverage and more respect from the mainstream media than any Republican has enjoyed in over a decade – because the press, like a substantial majority of the attendees at the Republican state convention this weekend, realizes that he simply can’t win. That’s why the media has been willing to remain largely silent about McClintock’s stances on social issues – the same positions that earned Bill Simon both their opprobrium and the designation of “far right” less than a year ago.

Of course, all the press attention and flattery explain why McClintock is understandably reluctant to withdraw from the race. Finally, the class brain has been invited to sit with the cool kids at lunch. So McClintock – either unwilling or unable to see how he is being patronized, even exploited – is happy, and the press – blessed with a reliable, easy and compelling narrative of Republican division and in-fighting – is delighted.

In the meantime, Bustamante and McClintock’s rival, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is taken seriously by everyone – by the press, by his competitors, and even by the feminists. He is covered relentlessly, and has no margin for error.

But as annoying as it must be to be harangued for “boorish behavior” by left-wing feminist hypocrites who ignored credible allegations of rape against a President they supported, at least Arnold and his team can take solace in the truth that informed the original women’s movement: It is a compliment to be taken seriously, especially by those who disagree with you. Or as they say in Missouri: Nobody kicks a dead dog.

CRO columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA.


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