Hunkering Down in the Home Stretch

By Becky O’Malley
Thursday October 16, 2008 - 09:55:00 AM

We went to three Obama fundraising parties last week, and there’s another one scheduled for this week. As the polls look better and better, the atmosphere has changed from apprehension to a carefully modulated exhilaration. One of our hostesses, an elegant African-American classical singer whose husband is a professor, no hippie she, confessed that though she seldom has visions, she had experienced a clear mental image of Obama’s inauguration ball which she took as a sign that he was going to win. Her party, co-hosted in Oakland by an assortment of young couples, featured comedy-show videos starring Tina Fey and others projected on the wall. General hilarity prevailed, and $3,500 was added to Obama’s war chest, contributed by people who didn’t seem to be the idle affluent. And yet, our hostess confessed, she still wakes up in the middle of the night worrying about the election.  

Don’t we all! 

Party No. 2 was very classy, an afternoon art auction in the barn and garden of a charming Victorian in Temescal, hosted by the artists who contributed their work for sale, with donated fancy food from trendy Temescal establishments like Bakesale Betty’s, and even a jazz trio. Again, it seemed like a slightly restrained but unmistakably confident victory celebration—everyone was in great good humor, though making wry jokes about the collapsing economy.  

No. 3 was at a Berkeley restaurant, organized by a large group of educators of various stripes, including several Codys. It was another big success—the grand total was more than $10,000. 

Yes, yes, I know that these events are not in the big league of political fundraisers. There prices start at a thousand dollars a head and easily soar into the stratosphere. But it’s a very good sign that regular people with kids and day jobs, the ones who can’t drop everything and go to Nevada to campaign, are serious about getting involved in doing what they can for this election.  

It’s a phenomenon that I haven’t seen since the early ‘70s. I never went to a fundraiser for Chairman Bill, who despite his populist rhetoric was largely funded by the rich and famous. A painting in our living room did come from an art sale for the Shirley Chisholm campaign, but we only paid five dollars for it.  

It’s too soon, though, to kick back and enjoy the ride down the back stretch. Ronald Reagan did pull away from Carter at about this point in the campaign. There’s an outside chance that the latest round of fixes to the economy might be perceived as successful by the electorate and cause some to vote Republican after all, though it’s doubtful.  

One good sign is that the left pundits in The Nation have already started grousing about Obama. It was a bit worrisome early in the campaign when people like Alexander Cockburn were unduly enthusiastic about him, since their role in political discourse is usually to needle the Democrats, but things are starting to look normal now. They must be pretty sure he’s going to win.  

(As I was typing the last paragraph, I got a call from The Nation’s phone solicitation boiler room—are they monitoring my computer? No, probably not...)  

The anticipated Obama landslide in California could create a problem with the downticket items on the ballot. The good news for the top of the ticket is that an exciting candidate like Obama will bring out everyone and their brothers-in-law. The bad news for the bottom of the ticket is that a lot of these voters will be amateurs, people who don’t keep up with politics or vote in most elections. Their votes on obscure initiatives and local candidates might be somewhat random.  

One good rule is “if you don’t understand it, skip it.” California state ballots are bedevilled with obscure initiatives which seem to solve real problems, but which have a few crackpot provisions which will do more harm than good. A case in point, some would say, is the particular high-speed rail proposal on the ballot, which some environmentalists, though not all, think would do serious damage to the areas it crosses without sufficient benefits to justify itself. It’s hard to know which side is right. 

Proposition 8, however, is pretty clear. It aims to reverse the California Supreme Court decision saying that heterosexual people don’t have an exclusive lock on the institution of marriage. Its supporters make strange bedfellows. The Mormons, whose views on marriage haven’t always been exactly mainstream, are sending thousands of letters from Utah and pumping millions of dollars into the Yes On 8 campaign. Catholics in my childhood taught that marriage was a religious contract between the spouses, with the priest only a witness and the state an unwelcome intruder, but now some of them seem to have elevated state-sponsored marriage to a civil sacrament equal to the religious Sacrament of Matrimony. The Protestant evangelicals in times past called the Catholic Church the Whore of Babylon, and they were tough on polygamy too, but now all three religious groups are promiscuously in bed together promoting 8.  

One long-term solution might be to abolish state-sponsored marriage altogether, allowing people to make any deals among themselves that their personal religion allows, but giving everyone equal rights to civil unions with legal benefits the same for all. Until that happens, fair-minded people should vote no on 8, and send money too, because the Yes churches are eager to spend a fortune to control other people’s lives. 

How about Berkeley? A reader begged for guidance on the rent board candidates. It looks to me like they’re all fine, can’t go wrong—but of course that’s because rent control has just about collapsed, so the evil landlords don’t bother to run candidates any more. The good landlords—yes, Virginia, there are some—think what’s left of the rent board does a good job of mediating landlord-tenant disputes, but most of the credit should really go to their excellent staff.  

You’re on your own with local measures, too, except for LL. That’s the one which lets you vote No on the city council’s ill-conceived attempt to get rid of Berkeley’s historic preservation ordinance. The environmental cost of demolishing our viable existing buildings, even if they were replaced with diamond-studded platinum towers, would be incalculable. We’ll never be able to build our way out of global warming. Vote no on LL. 

I’m still thinking about KK. On the one hand, it’s a clumsy way to affect policy. On the other hand, no one currently in local elective office seems willing to do the hard work necessary to make an informed decision on the pros and cons of AC Transit’s seemingly goofy bus rapid transit plan. Passing KK might get their attention. 

The previous discussion of Berkeley’s mayoral race in this space was described by one critic as “praising Shirley Dean with faint damns.” I’m still planning to vote for her myself, but some of us here, including me, would like to have a clearer look at what the two candidates hope to do if elected, and readers have said the same thing.  

We’ve invited them to participate in a local debate, and as of this writing we delighted to say that they’ve both accepted. The date will be Monday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m., the place, the West Berkeley Senior Center. Former Albany Mayor Bob Cheasty has graciously agreed to moderate. It should be fun.