It’s less than a week until the election and a few days before Halloween, and the proximity of the two has never seemed more fitting. Vampires in the bloodbank, skeletons bursting from closets and California’s gubernatorial candidates morphing into fairytale characters. Marijuana isn’t legal yet, but the political tomfoolery has us wondering if we’re high. All that combined with the sheer obscenity of multimillion-dollar campaign budgets during a recession — never mind the name calling — could spook even the most optimistic voter.

And these are some frightening times. Frightening not only because the economy’s wounds are healing at the rate of a diabetic’s. Frightening not just because jobs are vanishing, the middle class is shrinking, and the cost of living is in direct conflict with the quality of life Americans have grown accustomed to and, perhaps to varying degrees, feel entitled to. Frightening not only in the sense that our once-confident nation has turned cynical, that the spirit of hope briefly re-ignited by the election of President Obama (for many Americans) has once again been replaced with discouragement, that a country known for its strength and goodwill is now famous for greed, excess and apathy.

Alarming as all that is, what’s really got us quivering is that our navigation tools have stopped working. The earth poles may not have shifted (yet), but all our fun in the new world has left us disoriented. All signs are pointing to a more compassionate, tempered capitalism, acceptance of our losing battle against global cheap labor, and the realization that if we don’t find a new direction, which may include embracing fresh technologies and utilizing heretofore untapped resources, we may find ourselves on even stormier seas. We have reached the point of no return and it’s getting harder to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys.

Enter Meg Whitman and Edmund Gerald “Jerry” Brown — both seeking your vote for governor of California.

Her résumé: Proctor & Gamble, the Walt Disney Company, Stride Rite Corporation, Hasbro, eBay. She is responsible for bringing Teletubbies to the U.S.

His résumé: California Secretary of State, Chairman of California Democratic Party, Governor of California, Mayor of Oakland, Attorney General of California. He dated pop singer Linda Ronstadt.

She: The voice of money, champion of the privileged, W.A.S.P.y corporate dominatrix with the permanent smirk and nonexistent voting record, Republican.

He: The grizzled career politician, motormouth populist, heart on his sleeve, unions in his pocket, forever trying to shed the Governor Moonbeam tag, Democrat.

She: East Coast, no white after Labor Day, pinky in the air at tea time.

He: West Coast, suntanned, vegetarian, prone to gaffes.

She: Noticeably uncomfortable saying the word “Latino” despite excessive use of it.

He: Was mayor of Oakland … enough said.

She: Born under the astrological sign of Leo. Female Leos tend to be attention-hungry, protective, and love to spend money.

He: Born under the astrological sign of Aries. Male Aries tend to be dominant, independent and natural leaders.

She: “I don’t know you, you don’t know me. Understand?” (What Whitman told her housekeeper upon discovering she was undocumented and firing her. Despite evidence to the contrary, Whitman alleges that, during her housekeeper’s nine-year employment, she never knew her housekeeper was undocumented.)

He: “I did not have taxes with this state.” (An ironic reference to President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky in response to Whitman’s misquote of Clinton about Brown’s political legacy. Got it?)

The California governor’s race is unlike any other, and this has everything to do with the state itself. Huge, diverse, abundant in natural resources and talent, and absolutely polarized, California is in some ways a microcosm of the U.S.

The most populous state in the nation with the largest economy — the eighth largest in the world — it’s base camp for the entertainment and technology industries, glamour HQ, porn central and the leading state in dairy production. (Is it any wonder California cows are happy?) Housing is more expensive in California than anywhere else, with Ventura County having one of the top three most inflated housing markets in the state. Surprisingly, California is not No. 1 in cosmetic surgery — Utah boasts that distinction. From the Gold Rush to the casting couch, California has long been the place dreams are made of, but in recent years the joke has been that California’s biggest growth industry is government, and Meg Whitman is all about growth. Her first priority should she be elected? Restore the California Dream.

For someone raised on politics — hardly the sexiest of paths to fame and fortune — Jerry Brown has, to some extent, lived the California Dream. Even, in true celebrity fashion, reinventing himself in more recent years. In 1979, during his second of three runs for President of the United States, Jerry Brown was whooping it up with celebrities, corresponding with the Dalai Lama and showing no signs of slowing. Now, at 72 years old, he actually looks younger than his opponent, Whitman, who is 54. A Californian to the bone, he doesn’t seem as quick to sign the State’s DNR orders. First on his agenda? Create jobs in “new energy.”

Both Whitman and Brown understand that with a state unemployment rate of 12.4 percent (11.1 percent in Ventura County), job creation is a top priority; but creating jobs while trimming budgets is a slippery slope, and with the private sector increasingly loath to fund generous public salaries, benefits and pensions, there’s pain ahead. Whitman’s ideas are drastic and conflicting. She vows to create new jobs immediately by cutting taxes on businesses/employers while simultaneously putting 30,000 public employees out of work. She and Brown both favor weaning public workers from generous pensions and offering them less expensive, 401K-style retirement plans, though if Whitman is elected, police and firefighters will keep their current terms. (She has been endorsed by both unions, hence the infamous Brown camp faux pas of referring to Whitman as a political whore). Her plan to cut the ludicrous business start-up tax is a step in the right direction toward making California a more hospitable climate for business, but her fervor to eliminate the capital gains tax is seen by many as self-serving and catering to the wealthy. According to the California Tax Reform Association, Whitman stands to gain $8.2 million to $42.2 million over four years if the tax is killed. The state would lose an estimated $5.3 billion in tax revenue. Trickle-down economics (helping big business to thrive so jobs are created and the economy is stimulated) hasn’t worked on a federal level. How will it benefit California?

Brown’s plan, similar to President Obama’s, leans heavily on infrastructure improvement and creating a fresh identity for the state as leader in new energy technologies. A recent article in Time magazine reported that in order for the country to save the American Dream, we must capitalize on our intelligence and innovation because we are simply unable to compete with burgeoning global economies and cheap labor. The same logic would seem to follow for California.

As campaigns go, neither candidate has wowed voters, and both could have done more with less — especially Whitman, whose record $140 million self-financed campaign might have been better suited for Texas, the state she incessantly refers to as a business-friendly model. But as working Americans are choosing between the electric bill and groceries, never mind health care, her advertising barrage has had the opposite of its intended effect — it’s punctuated her detachment from ordinary people. And no amount of roast beef sandwiches or hot dog dinners will convince them otherwise.

Given that voters have been widely portrayed in the press as incumbent-phobic, Brown has not been wise to pummel them with reminders that his entire life has been wrapped up in politics. While his ideas are adequate and his record on spending is better than Whitman’s blatantly untrue advertisements would have you believe (she refused to cease her misinformation onslaught despite being proved wrong by nonpartisan fact-checking organizations, hence the Pinocchio jabs from Brown’s side), he is prone to waffling, and if not careful, will verbally dig his own grave.

So there you have it. The masquerade ball has commenced, and your attendance is deeply appreciated. Feel free to dance with whomever you’d like but be warned that the one you wake up with may not be the one you went home with. Your tango with a tall blond woman wearing pearl earrings and a business suit could turn ghastly when, in the light of day, her delicate skin begins to crack, revealing the mechanical parts beneath. Your fox trot with the salt-and-pepper, handsome, charming older gentleman could have dire consequences when you discover he is in fact a shape-shifter, changing form when the moment calls for an easy exit. The invitation may have read California Dreamin’ but a more appropriate title for this shindig might have been California Screamin’.   

What would Don Draper do?

If you’re one of the millions who have been following AMC’s brilliant television series Mad Men, then at some point you may have asked yourself the question “What would Draper do?” After all, the dapper Draper (played by Jon Hamm), creative director for Sterling Cooper, a Madison Avenue advertising agency, always seems to know what’s best when it comes to projecting a commanding image. Last year, Don Draper was voted the most influential man in the world by AskMen.com, ahead of President Obama. Had Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown sought Draper’s expertise, how would the game have changed?


JerryJerry Brown

Less talking. Learn to be succinct. When you ramble, it makes you appear unsure of your position. And, frankly, it annoys us.

Mind your manners: Everything you need to know, you learned in kindergarten. Pointing and name-calling are not befitting of an elder statesman.

Age is a number — not a talking point. You look darn good for 72. Use this to your advantage instead of constantly reminding us how you could keel over at any moment and you’ve been a politician for longer than many of your constituents have been alive. Reminder: people don’t trust “politicians.”

The best defense is a good offense.You’ve heard it a million times and it’s true. You’ve been on the defense far too much during this campaign. Take a page from your opponent’s playbook and ignore her attacks. We know you’re the better man. The more you try to convince us defensively, the less we believe you.

 

mMeg Whitman

Smile, but smile less. When it’s fake, it’s obvious. It makes us feel uncomfortable and embarrassed for you.

Don’t smirk. No matter how much you’re squirming, don’t let it show in your facial expression. It appears smug and elitist.

Be yourself. You are privileged. Show us that you’re OK with it. Own it. Gingham blouses and blue-plate specials will not change the fact that you eat your hot dog with a knife and fork.

Less gloss. Gloss is a good choice for an aging female face, but when you’re trying to convince people that you’re really not that different from them, despite your billions of dollars, it’s wise to tone down your promotional materials. Nothing says humble like a 48-page, full-color glossy mailer-magazine. Same goes for your website. Less is more.
 

michel@vcreporter.com