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Stateside: The Demise Of The Machine?

Stateside With Rosalea

The Demise Of The Machine?

You can probably expect a lot of dramatic news this week that will keep the Republicans in the public eye. It's the 40th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination and something will need to be done to counteract the attention being paid to Democratic values and history as a natural outcome of that.

Already I've had a tear in my eye this morning as ABC's This Week aired re-published Life magazine images with audio from radio broadcasts of the time. But then I also had many tears in my eyes when, in its Funnies section, the same program aired late-night comedian Conan O'Brien's quip that Senator Ted Kennedy got so tired during last week's senate filibuster that he laid his head down on several desks.

The re-vamped This Week with George Stephanopoulos is a totally different beast from the boring old This Week. Watching it is now like reading the Sunday newspaper without getting ink all over your hands and a bucket full of trashy coupons to dispose of. It's meaty as well as entertaining, and responds to viewers' e-mails by taking up their questions with people in a position to answer them. If the transcript is on-line, I recommend you get a flavour of the show by reading the host's interview with Paul Bremer this morning.

*** There is another anniversary this week - that of the Jonestown tragedy in Guyana in 1978 where hundreds of people killed themselves at the behest of a charismatic cult leader who started off in a church in the Fillmore district of San Francisco. In one of the most potent pieces of editing I've seen, a local news reporter showed images of the hundreds of dead bodies as she asked a California state senator about the emotional impact that tragedy had on her, and cut to the senator's reply.

At the time, now-Senator Jackie Speier was an assistant to a California congressman who flew to Guyana to investigate and both of them were shot at an airfield when trying to leave - Leo Ryan fatally. In the interview this morning, Speier recounted how close to death she was several times on the way back to the United States. (She had to have ten operations, and two bullets are still in her body.)

The reporter then asked the question about the emotional impact, to which Speier replied that, yes, it was terrible - she so disliked her body as a result that she couldn't wear a swimsuit in public for ages afterward. Is it any wonder that voters these days decry the "Democratic Party machine" if that is the kind of self-obsessed politician it produces?

*** San Francisco mayoral candidate Matt Gonzalez sure seems to be getting some traction out of that phrase as his coffee-shop campaigning continues to see him rise in the polls. I've watched Gonzalez speak in person on two occasions - both of them long before he announced his candidacy. On one of those occasions he was announcing to a special interest group that he wasn't going to support their special interest. It is a testament to the sense of fairness and integrity that Gonzalez imparts that he still has that group's support.

Bizarrely, his ratings may have gotten a kind of back-handed boost from an unexpected quarter early this week when Governor Jeb Bush of Florida made a flippant remark about the world being a better place if some of the diverse and exotic wildlife found in San Francisco were to become extinct. Incumbent mayor, Willie Brown - who supports the other candidate - made some equally flippant remark in response, and his spokesperson later went on record saying people should lighten up. That was in response to the umbrage taken at Bush's comment by what you might call the Hero Parade constituency of SF, thinking it was aimed at them.

I've got no idea what Gonzalez's take on all that was, if any. I did catch the tail end of a live interview he did on local TV this morning and couldn't help thinking he looked, in his suit - with his trademark straggly hair and over-large hands - like the male equivalent of the pole-dancer wannabe in the opera "Jerry Springer" inexplicably dressed up in clothes from Barbara Bush's wardrobe. However, his suit - it transpired in the interview - is actually a mantle. It was given to him by Art Agnos, who was mayor in the late 80s.

As an aside, Agnos's political mentor was a state policitian named Leo McCarthy, who was born in New Zealand, but whose immigrant Irish family moved on to the States when he was three. McCarthy was Speaker of the California State Assembly for many years and recently helped establish the Center for Public Service and the Common Good at the University of San Francisco.

Now there's a brand of McCarthyism that the US might one day be proud of!


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