The Politics of No

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“Republicans — the party that brought us ‘just say no,’ first as a drug policy, then as their entire platform.” – Stephen Colbert.

One of the admirable traits of our country’s founders was their ability to think creatively as they forged into the new world of democracy more than 200 years ago. They were activists and they believed in an activated citizenry.

Let’s call theirs the politics of “yes.”

This is where I take issue with some local conservatives. When Scott Peotter, running for Newport Beach City Council (Sixth District), spoke of property owners “concerned that their taxes are going into the black hole of government paying for $200,000 lifeguards, etc.” in his NB Indy column from December 2012, that’s misleading.

While the city’s lifeguards are well paid, the use of that one letter “s” makes it appear that $200,000 a year lifeguards are the happy norm in Newport. City Manager Dave Kiff, points out that number includes not only salary but also health care and retirement benefits. (Sort of like including your future Social Security and Medicare benefits in your current annual income.) Furthermore, he maintains that only one lifeguard in one year earned that much.

Another target of criticism among some local conservatives is Newport’s “Taj Mah City Hall.” Balboa Island resident Bob McCaffrey, among others, claims its estimated price tag of $142 million is proof of the current council’s fecklessness. But there’s an inaccuracy here, too. The City Hall did not cost $142 million: That cost was spread over five projects, including an aesthetically notable parking structure, an expansion of that much-used gem of our city, the Newport Beach Public Library, an innovative park (whatever our diverse opinions on the white rabbits), and the pedestrian bridge over San Miguel Drive. You would not know this from the right’s rhetoric over the “Taj.” It’s an important distinction. Besides, the new civic center is an aesthetic contribution in an area beset by mediocre artchitecture.

In a recent full-page ad in the Daily Pilot, McCaffrey announced that he is the volunteer chairman of the political action committee This PAC aims to “change the direction of our city government.” Such right-wing organizations have railed long and loud against government bureaucracy, regulation and taxation, but consider this: They ignore an essential aspect of what democracy demands of us.

As writer Kathryn Schulz points out, the revolutions of the late 18th century rearranged the “relationship between the individual and the state [and] made documenting the lives and deaths of every citizen newly desirable.”

She also stated that “The flip side of democracy is bureaucracy: if everyone counts everyone must be counted.”

She also offers this insight by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, a French political theorist who wrote in 1851, “[T]o be governed is to be noted, registered, enumerated, accounted for, stamped, measured, classified, audited, patented, licensed, authorized, endorse, reprimanded, prevented, reformed, rectified, and corrected….”

And taxed, I would add.

The campaign flyers piling up in my mailbox show our Republican ideologues resist the “flip side” of democracy. In a flyer sent by Michelle Steel, running for District 2 of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, she’s shown smiling at the camera, palm held up: Steel “Will STOP New Taxes.”

Nobody likes taxes and nobody likes waste. But obsessing over them to the exclusion of the other issues the people of this city and country face can result in the unimaginative politics of sitting back, arms folded, and just saying “no.” (As is seen in the Republican controlled House of Representatives.)

We need candidates who think creatively and are willing to act with an eye toward the future. Candidates like Democrat Anila Ali, who is running for the 74th Assembly District. Consider her a Renaissance woman: educator, author, journalist, community organizer, activist, and human rights advocate.

Ali says, “The citizens of this district deserve a real seat at the table rather than the negativity and mean-spirited politics they have come to expect. I see this district for all its assets. We embrace education, we are blessed with a beautiful coastline, our cities contribute greatly to Orange County’s economy and we are a model of cultural diversity. When I go to Sacramento, I will be there to get things done, to be an advocate for the health, safety and prosperity of our district and to work with everyone, regardless of party, to advance good legislation and ensure that this district gets our fair share of resources.”[1]

On June 3 we have a chance to move beyond the politics of “no.” Democrats as well as moderates of any persuasion must vote for candidates who encompass more than the empty term, “fiscal conservative.” Candidates who are fiscally responsible and creative thinkers about elective office.

Democratic candidates like Jim Moreno, District 2 of the Board of Supervisors; Suzanne Savary, 48th Congressional District; and Anila Ali, State Assembly, 74th District.

A caveat here: Voter turnout on June 3 is projected to run around 30%. That’s terrible — we must vote. And beware of stealth candidates lurking about. Karina Onofre is also running as a Democrat for the 74th District. Her campaign is a joke – she’s no more a Democrat than Rush Limbaugh.

Jean Ardell is the President of the Newport Beach Women’s Democratic Club.



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