My Turn: The President Visits Corona del Mar

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It is a long-held belief that registered Democrats in Newport Beach are about as scarce as chickens.

Never mind that Barack Obama won the 48th Congressional District in 2008 – surely an anomaly.

How ironic, then, that in the very week the Newport Beach City Council denied the Goldenrod 6 as well as all other chickens the freedom to cluck in the city’s backyards, President Obama cruised into town for an upscale fundraising brunch in Corona del Mar.

Local Republicans, led by Laura Dietz, who ran unsuccessfully for city council in 2002, bridled at the president’s foray into their presumed territory and organized. By 6:15 a.m. on Feb. 18, the morning of the president’s visit, all four corners of Poppy and East Coast Highway were jammed with demonstrators.

“This is all about what our founding fathers stood for,” said Dietz, listing her lamentations of the past three years. “It’s all about healthcare, over-regulation of business…And it’s being ignored by the present Administration. I’m doing this for my children and grandchildren!”

Despite the early hour, the Republicans were a sartorially splendid sight, with many dressed in red, white, and blue, along with a good dash of rhinestones and sequins.

Especially notable was Nancy Johnson, 55, astride her 13-year-old paint horse, Sinatra, whose pale blue eyes were calm. Johnson, dressed in a revolutionary war uniform, explained to those who asked, “This is the best way to get around ‘cause I can’t afford gas.”

But beyond the novelty of a Democratic president dining on fresh salmon and mushroom and spinach quiche while overlooking Little Corona Beach as Republicans braved the elements outdoors, stamping their feet in the early morning chill, was another surprise: By my estimate, Democrats and independents, many of them locals, outnumbered the Republicans.

And as the morning wore on, people began to mingle. On the corner of Seaward Road and East Coast Highway, a khaki-clad Caucasian local, Dean Wickstrom, approached Leigh Washington, a black man wearing a CWA (Communications Workers of America) Local 9510 cap.

“I heard they pay union people to demonstrate,” Wickstrom began. “How much they pay you to be here?”

Washington did not take kindly to the question. He had not been paid to be there and did not appreciate the implication, adding that he had endured racist comments by tea partiers and was tired of people who didn’t know their own history.

“You know what this also stands for?” he asked, jabbing his thumb at his cap.  “CWA? It also stands for Christians With Attitude – and I got some.”

Wickstrom endeavored to give a short review of U.S. economic history, salted with the wrong-headedness of the current Administration’s policies, but Washington insisted, “This recession is different.”

An Obama supporter walked by with a bullhorn –“Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho. Corporate greed has got to go!” – momentarily drowning out the men’s conversation. But the two persevered.

“Hey, I’m just an old Vietnam vet who played football,” said Washington, who had a tryout with the Los Angeles Rams in 1975.

Both men, it turned out, shared an interest in what they see as the under-appreciated contributions of blacks to U.S. history. Both men had seen hard economic times recently. Wickstrom, a marketing entrepreneur, said he hadn’t taken a paycheck in three years. Both men had put their daughters through college, and both young women had struggled to find jobs after graduating.

When Washington flipped out his mobile phone to show a photo of his nephew posed with Condoleezza Rice, Wickstrom asked for a copy and they exchanged phone numbers and e-mail addresses.

As the morning sky grew pale overhead, the men found more common ground.

Washington: “Look, I used to support Republicans like Reagan, but not this bunch – they’re taking us way far back socially.”

Wickstrom: “Hey, I’m a tea partier, a fiscal conservative. But I’m about as opposed to the Republicans as you are – they didn’t cut spending, either.”

Washington offered that he was really more of an Independent; Wickstrom that he was more of a Libertarian. Later, Washington reported that Wickstrom had texted, “Nice talking with you,” and kidded, “Between the two of us, we could solve these problems.”

Why care that two disparate people engaged in an ultimately civil conversation about politics? Because we don’t see nearly enough of it in Newport Beach.

As one pro-Obama demonstrator put it, “We can’t talk politics at the office.”

What does that say about a country that purportedly stands for individual freedom, for First Amendment rights?

In truth, Democrats are not as scarce as chickens in this town. Newport Beach has 13,437 Democrats, (21 percent of the city’s voters).

Standing on opposite street corners with argumentative signs may feel good, but what does it accomplish?

When asked why he approached Leigh Washington, Dean Wickstrom replied, “I didn’t want to talk to the choir. I wanted to hear from people with different thoughts.  Leigh was listening – he wasn’t a shouter.”

Now there’s a novel idea.

– By Jean Ardell

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  1. Dear Editor:

    Thanks to the Newport Beach Independent for publishing recent Guest Contributor Jean Ardell’s response to Laura Dietz’s earlier letter. The Ardell Forum piece was rational, lucid, intelligent, and reflected the essentials of “on the scene reporting” – who, what, when, where, why and how – and in its lucidity, easily contradicted the information in the Dietz opinion piece.

    During this period of heated political discourse and growing skepticism about what is true that we read in our newspapers, Ms Ardell’s work got the facts right and the context of the event correct. The President was here by invitation to attend a fund raiser, not to make a speech to the general public.

    What was refreshing after reading Doctor Dietz’s and Ms Ardell’s two versions of the events of February 18 was the moment for comparison that followed and illuminated the reality of the notion of democracy. People of various political persuasions were assembled either to support our President just as others were there to politicize the event and denigrate him by word and propaganda. Both of those rights are guaranteed by the constitution, even in Newport Beach.

    Local papers need to report more on both sides of issues and less of the “washout” single source declarations that constitute biased and misleading reporting!

    Jerry G. Alston and
    Nancy L. Alston