Unexpectedly and out of the blue, the worst news of the year for California Republicans comes in a Harvard public health research study published in the decidedly non-political Archives of Internal Medicine.
Blared the headline over one news report summarizing the study: “All red meat is bad for you.”
For a party that rewards its heroes with lusty cheers for raw public denunciations of godless gays, zygote killers, gun control wimps, the uninsured, immigrants, France and the Great Satan Obama, it’s hard to imagine many things more terrifying than to learn that “any amount and any type” of red meat “appears to significantly increase the risk of premature death.” Good thing they don’t believe in science.
Burgers, chops and steaks aside, one other big piece of lousy news for the state GOP in recent days was the abrupt and startling decision by Republican Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher to turn his back on his party and re-register as a decline-to-state independent in his bid to be elected mayor of San Diego.
As every school child knows, 35-year old Fletcher is a GQ handsome, articulate and ripped tri-athlete, an ex-Marine decorated for combat service in Iraq and the first veteran of George Bush’s War on Terror to be elected to the Legislature. At a time when the GOP is on life support in the state, he was viewed among the party’s cognoscenti as a top-rank rising star who could help replenish the weak Republican bench (which now consists of Kevin McCarthy and, um, Kevin McCarthy) and allow them to dream of some day, somehow, clawing their way back to relevance.
No less an authority on the Republican playbook for statewide success than Bill Whalen, veteran adviser to Pete Wilson (who got his start as an assemblyman and San Diego mayor, hint, hint) was shouting Fletcher’s praises from the rooftop in the days before the state GOP’s winter convention:
“The way back, it goes back to Nathan Fletcher,” Whalen said. “You’re going to have to elect people to lower offices. … The Wilson model is the kind of path that young guys should be looking at.”
Nathan, we hardly knew ye.
Dirty Harry meets GenX: Perhaps to build his cred among millennial voters, Fletcher announced his break-up with the GOP via Twitter and You Tube, where he orated for more than six minutes, in the husky voice of a young Clint Eastwood, about the evils of dysfunctional gridlock, divisive polarization and polarized divisive gridlocked dysfunction:
I don’t believe we have to treat people we disagree with as an enemy. I think we can just say sometimes we disagree…I fought in a war and I have seen the enemy. We don’t have enemies in our political environment here…I fought in a war, I put it all on the line for my country. I didn’t go through all that to come back and for office to play games.
Also: bipartisanship, pragmatism, problem-solving – all good.
Given a) the hold-our-breaths-til-we-turn blue M.O. of Republicans in Sacramento; b) their lust for purging any who dare defy the Grover-bot test of ideological purity and c) Fletcher’s record of backing gay rights, alternative energy and working with Governor Brown on a measure to raise some corporate taxes by closing loopholes, some of our most beloved, esteemed and respected colleagues quickly established a narrative about the wing nuts driving one more common sense moderate ‘round the bend.
To which we say: Yeah, but.
There’s clearly some validity to that take, and ordinarily we’re suckers for a good tale of a high-minded, principled working class hero slaying political hacks and dragons on behalf of the people united will never be defeated. But this guy doesn’t exactly send a tingle up our leg, and it seems a stretch to portray him as a symbol of a conservative-moderate war for the soul of the Republican party, or much else for that matter, for all kinds of reasons:
1-All politics is local (and mayor’s races are officially non-partisan).
2-Fletcher is running a lousy third in the June 5 race for two spots in the November mayoral run-off.
3-His big road-to-Damascus epiphany not so coincidentally came just two weeks after he tried and failed to get the local Republican endorsement.
4-The guy who got endorsed, Carl DeMaio, is openly gay, putting the lie to suggestions that Fletcher is being punished by “orthodox” social conservatives for backing gay rights legislation in Sacramento.
5-He ain’t that moderate. Flash Fleischman, who’s been publicly agonizing about his conflicted feelings about the situation, performed a valuable public service by publishing a transcript of the assemblyman’s pitch for the local party endorsement, which shows Young Nathan is not exactly Tom Campbell.
6-The loathsome David Brooks added his odiousness to the Nathan Fletcher: Post-Partisan Superman saga, reason alone to discount it, given that this guy hasn’t got anything right since 10th grade geometry.
And another thing: All that said, it must be noted that Fletcher is not the only coastal Republican in 2012 to dump the tarnished GOP label.
In Ventura County, Supervisor Linda Parks recently switched her Republican registration to decline-to-state in her 26th CD battle against Grover-bot All-Star Tony Strickland and a batch of Democrats. A little further north, Abel Maldonado, who enraged Republican apparatchiks by playing nice with Democrats over taxes and sponsoring the top-two primary system, has positioned himself as the post-partisan alternative to Santa Barbara Democratic incumbent Lois Capps in the 24th CD, and is all smiles despite losing the local GOP nod to Tea Party favorite, political rookie and C list actor Chris Mitchum.
As our betters used to tell us on the city desk, one is news, two’s a coincidence and three’s a trend.
Bottom line on Fletcher: Calbuzz likes the way San Diego GOP county committee Tony Krvaric put it: “It’s never pretty to watch a panicking politician, but that’s what we saw with Nathan Fletcher today. Nathan Fletcher running for office as an independent is about as credible as Rick Santorum trying to run as a Green Party candidate.”
Eulogy for a scribbler: As Tom Meyer weighs in with his own take on the Fletcher matter today, we asked him for some reflections on his colleague Rex Babin, editorial cartoonist at the Sacramento Bee, who died way too soon last week at 49. Here’s what Meyer said:
First let me stipulate the obvious: editorial cartoonists for the most part are jerks. We say things that are impolitic and rude, and even though the intent may be to raise a reader’s consciousness, the way we do it is often a fish slap across the face. It is called “the ungentlemanly art” for a reason.
That said, there are a few cartoonists who can somehow commute from work and leave the “jerk” in the car. Rex was one of those guys. In a profession filled with cynics, he was not. In a profession crowded with snarky Ricky Gervaises, he was, well…Jimmy Stewart – with a cattle prod.
And even though every politician and civic leader who felt the jolt of one of Rex’s cartoons might be relieved those jolts are in the past, I’m sure another part of them will miss them, too. Because, the fact is, by making them more accountable, he made them better. He made California better. Which is why we will all miss him.