Thursday, November 18, 2010

Is SNL George W. Bush's Next Stop?

SIMI VALLEY – With Nancy Reagan on his arm, former President George W. Bush Thursday brought his bestseller campaign and an unexpected sense of humorous storytelling to the cathedral of American Republicanism – the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

“I have zero desire to be in the limelight except to sell the book,” Bush said in an evening marked by a display of Mark Twain-like humor as he told stories of his presidency mixed with fatherly advice.

Nancy Reagan with former President George W. Bush
Several hundred GOP faithful, many of them carrying copies of his book “Decision Points,” gave the former president a rousing standing ovation when he arrived under the nose of the gleaming Air Force One in the main pavilion of the library.

Bush had his audience laughing much of the evening, answering questions they submitted, among them his advice for raising three daughters.

“If they’re teenagers,” he said, “I would say, ‘I love you. There’s nothing you can do to make me not love you – so stop trying!”

His answer got perhaps the loudest ovation of the evening.

“There’s a lot of psychobabble about my relationship with my father,” he said. “Not many people who are president have a son who’s president, and there’s been a lot of speculation. But here’s the simple truth. He found the right balance. He gave me unconditional love…

“So my advice is love your kids as much as you possibly can.”

Much of the humor was directed at himself and his family, such as what traits he got from his parents – his mother Barbara and his father, former President George Herbert Walker Bush.

“I have my father’s eyes,” he said, “and my mother’s mouth!”

Or on what he missed from being the world’s most powerful man.

“I don’t miss much about being president,” he said. “I miss being pampered!”

He told the story of the early days of his presidency when two valets suddenly appeared in a White House hallway on a day when his father was visiting.

“I said to my dad, ‘I don’t need a valet,’” he recalled, “and he says, “You’ll get used to it.”

Bush’s stop at the Reagan Library was his latest appearance since emerging from self-imposed exile from public life to vigorously defend his presidency and start defining his legacy, coincidently at a moment when his successor finds himself on the defensive.

But, much like his book, in which Bush makes little mention of President Obama’s policy choices other than to praise him for sending more troops to Afghanistan, the former president steered clear of politics and took on the posture of a statesman.

Bush was also serious about his own personal life. As he did in his memoir, he spoke openly about his drinking.

“I thought I would grab the attention of the reader if I started off this way,” he said. “Can you tell me a day in which you had not had a drink?”

Those who came to hear him loved what he had to say.

They included Aila and Ronald Hillberg of Turlock who bought four copies of the Bush book from the library gift shop, on for each of her four children – including 17-year-old twins who share the middle name Reagan.

“We came here tonight to hear President Bush – and, yes, we’re Republicans,” said Hillberg. “We voted for him, and we took all our children to his second inaugural in 2005.

“We love history, and this, tonight, is history.”

Bush alluded to his accounts of his presidential decisions detailed in his book, especially how the terrorist attacks of 9/11 shaped his eight years in office.

“That day changed my presidency,” he said, “and it changed America.”

But Bush also said he had never set out to be president, especially after seeing all the criticism made of his father when he was in the Oval Office.

“If I’d wanted to be president,” he said, “I would have behaved a lot better!”

Friday, November 12, 2010

Forgive me, Father, I ticked off the Flying Nun

Actress Sally Field has won two Oscars and three Emmys, but what many people most remember about her is that endearing 1984 Best Actress Academy Awards acceptance speech for Places in the Heart, that touched on the cornerstone of all our insecurities.

"I haven't had an orthodox career, and I've wanted more than anything to have your respect," said Field, whose career began in the 1960s television series Gidget and The Flying Nun, but had then taken a remarkable turn with an Oscar for Norma Rae in 1979. "The first time I didn't feel it, but this time I feel it, and I can't deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!"

Photo of Sally Field by Andy Holzman, L.A. Daily News
The speech has become a classic, sometimes misremembered as "You like me. You really like me!" It was mocked by Sean Penn in his 1996 acceptance of the Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead in Dead Man Walking as, "You tolerate me. You really tolerate me!" And it will live for eternity, on the Internet at least, on YouTube.

Entertainment reporters who have followed Field's career say privately that, after several years of having that speech brought up to her, she began to noticeably tire of it. Others who attended a San Fernando Valley entertainment function a few years ago recall that she was visibly unhappy at having the moment relived publicly yet another time.

On Friday, she was surprisingly more than visibly unhappy at having that speech again resurrected -- dredged up, she must have thought, from the way she answered a seemingly innocent question.

Field was at her old high school in the Valley to be honored with a performing arts auditorium dedicated in her honor. There, in an interview minutes before the ceremony, I remarked to her about how wonderful such an honor must be, coming at your old high school where all of us as teenagers struggled with issues of whether we were popular or liked and that certainly her "You like me" Oscar speech touched on that. Did she now feel some validation?

Even before I finished the question, I could see her jaw stiffen and a glare in her eyes.

"You know what? You're probably a wonderful reporter, but that's the most illy-conceived question I ever heard," she said. "I don't know how to answer that. You know that statement that I made, you don't have an article long enough to put everything that that was about. It certainly wasn't about being popular or being liked. It was about your work. It was about your work..."

Whoa! Had I touched a nerve or what?

"What did you say to her?" one of the news photographers who had been shooting her wanted to know as the interview ended abruptly. You could tell she was furious when her publicist led her away, and minutes later I tried to approach her again and saw that she was still miffed.

But my illy-conceived question may have been on her mind when she spoke to an auditorium full of students at Birmingham Community Charter High School because in her apparent off-the-cuff remarks she essentially answered it.

"Honestly, I never felt that I was popular, not at all -- as a matter of fact, I didn't feel like I fit in at all," said Field, who graduated from what was then Birmingham High School in 1964. "I had a group of girlfriends who kept kicking me out of the club. Honestly and earnestly kicking me out of the club.

"I think it's the kinds of things you identify with. I was confused. I was, a lot of the times, shy. I was unfocused and found it very hard to concentrate."

Her salvation, Field said, was the school's drama department.

"I lived and breathed in the drama department. It quite simply saved my life," Field said. "It was my place, my refuge, my playground. It was my reason for going to school...

"It was where I lost myself and found me."

A different generation of students gave the 64-year-old actress, producer and director a standing ovation, accepting her as one of their own, even if some were only vaguely familiar with her work as an Oscar winner and three-time Emmy recipient as well.

"I know she's famous," said 15-year-old sophomore Luis Morata siting in the second row. "Wasn't she Forrest Gump's mother?"

Why We Love The English Muse...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Not 'Mayor' Padilla, but 'Congressman' Padilla

Alex Padilla, a rising star of Los Angeles politics, says he's thinking of running for mayor when the office opens up in 2013, but those who know him think that the former high school and college baseball star is throwing local politicos a curveball.

Padilla, the former City Council president and current state senator representing the San Fernando Valley, is thinking of higher office, close insiders are saying privately -- and he wants to keep his name in front of voters and the political landscape.

Alex Padilla with former President Bill Clinton
But they're saying Padilla has his sights on an entirely different higher office -- the House of Representatives.

In 2012, insiders are saying, Padilla wants to be positioned for a congressionial seat that will have been created for a Latino in the Valley after a lot of squabbling and in-fighting in the redistricting battle ahead. None of  the three House members who represent most of the Valley -- Howard Berman, Brad Sherman and Henry Waxman -- want to talk about it. But none of them have forgotten the behind-the-scenes rumble after the 2000 Census.

Latinos wanted a congressional seat in the Valley at that time, didn't get one and vowed it would be different after the 2010 Census. And they're preparing for the showdown. The only question, they say, is what scenario will play out peacefully pushing one of  the incumbents out the door. The narrative some of them think is most likely has President Obama offering one of those three Congressmen a high-level administration position.

What those Latino pols haven't been looking forward to is the inevitable bloodbath that would ensue in deciding who would be the San Fernando Valley's first Latino Congressman.

Richard Alarcon, the City Councilman who has never met a political office he didn't want to run for, was long thought to be the likely frontrunner.  But that opportunity, many Latino political insiders say, has virtually disappeared for Alarcon after his indictment for fraud over his residency. Many of his longtime supporters are holding their breath, bracing for the worst. Even an acquittal, many of them think, wouldn't be enough to allow him to recover.

Padilla, meanwhile, has remained the shining knight. Aside from ambition, his name is spotless. He firmed up his party's credentials this year by supporting Gavin Newsom both in his gubernatorial and lieutenant gov campaigns, and he remains well-liked by business leaders in the Valley and in downtown Los Angeles.

Ideally, insiders are hoping, Alarcon will be convinced that Padilla is the future of both Latino and Valley politics -- especially for Democrats, who are short on attractive young candidates for statewide campaigns in the future. He does not have the baggage, political and personal, of Antonio Villaraigosa, who has found that charisma will only take you so far in politics.

So while Padilla ignites talk about succeeding Antonio, know that he has also learned one big lesson from the present mayor: When you're ambitious and looking at political offices as stepping stones to even greater heights, steer away from those where you have to govern in a time of ungovernable budgets and bureaucracies.

As Alex learned when he was playing baseball, sit on the fastballs.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

How the GOP Can Win California in the Future

So long as they continue to alienate Latinos, who make up more than a fifth of the state's voters, Republicans will never succeed in winning major statewide offices in California - no matter how many millions their candidates spend.

But this is the primer on how they can change their fortunes.

To begin romancing the Latino vote, Republicans must first man up, as it were, and be secure of who they are.

Could Latinos make the GOP No. 1?
They must stop preaching to the choir and stop overusing the C-word. Conservatives are going to vote Republican no matter what and don't need to be won over with all the C-word mantras that GOP candidates love to use. Park the C-word outside the state borders.

Instead, the California GOP should start an early grass-roots program educating Republicans on how the party will have to expand its ranks in order to win.

Next, they must disassociate from former Gov. Pete Wilson and from 1994, which was the year Proposition 187 alienated Latinos from Republicans. Retire the former governor. He is too symbolic of the anti-Latino GOP stance of the past, and we saw how well that served Meg Whitman in Tuesday's election. Statewide, Latinos voted for Jerry Brown 4-to-1 over the GOP billionaire.

Along with Wilson, put immigration on the back burner. Don't rant about it. When it's brought up, turn it to the issue of jobs.

Then, Republicans need to change how they go after the ever-growing Latino vote.

For starters, they can borrow a page from the American Jewish Committee, the global organization that in recent years has been promoting ties to Hispanic evangelicals and for whom the growing presence and increasing political influence of Latino evangelicals is a treasure trove for securing the future of Israel.

Los Angeles County alone is home to more than 5,500 Latino Pentecostal congregations. Nationally, at least 8million Americans identify themselves as Latino evangelicals.

Politically, say experts, Latino evangelicals lean toward the C-word.

"They fell in love with this George Bush, man of God defending the family from the allegedly gay agenda, abortion and the additional hook of the faith-based initiatives," says Jorge Garcia, professor of Chicano Studies at California State University, Northridge.

And Bush historically did well among Latinos in his campaigns for governor in Texas and in his two presidential campaigns.

Among Latino evangelicals and non-evangelicals as well, Republicans can also begin hammering Democrats and President Barack Obama with charges of elitism that have worked with non-Latinos.

Many Latinos, especially Mexican-Americans in California and the Southwest, may not even be aware of just how elitist Obama has been in dealing with them, especially on appointments.

The majority of Obama's Latino appointees have been non-Californians and non-Texans - and many of the important ones have been Ivy Leaguers, like Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, who are Puerto Rican or Cuban and do not share the Southwest Latino experience.

Republicans should hit heavy on the idea that from the start Obama has had no clue about Latinos in America. The Obama presidential campaign's leading Latino adviser, Tampa lawyer Frank Sanchez, is Cuban. He also served as the new president's point person for many of the administration's Latino appointments.

For starters: Obama's appointment to the Holy See is Cuban-born. So is Obama's Harvard-educated ambassador to Mexico, homeland of most of the Latinos in the U.S. Obama's highest-ranking Justice Department Latino appointee, an assistant attorney general in the civil rights division, is a Brown University and Harvard-educated Hispanic born in Buffalo and not from the Southwest, home of the largest number of civil rights abuses against Latinos.

Republicans need to understand what Obama doesn't - that Latinos are more factionalized than even Democrats. Mexican-Americans are largely resentful of the success that Puerto Ricans and Cubans have had riding the Latino wave created by their increasing numbers, the largest segment made up of Mexican-Americans.

The GOP should quietly cultivate that animosity to underscore how Obama's understanding of Latinos extends only to those on the East Coast and those with Ivy League connections.

Republicans do not need the lion's share of the Latino vote to take California. And they have nothing to lose by trying to do better than the 18 percent of the Latino vote that Whitman got Tuesday.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

How Jerry Brown Took Over Reagan Country

The San Fernando Valley voted solidly for Democratic candidates on Election Day, but by a smaller margin than the rest of Los Angeles, according to Loyola Marymount University's exit poll of voters.

Jerry Brown won 55 percent of the Valley vote for governor and Sen. Barbara Boxer took 58 percent, beating their Republican opponents among all voter groups, according to the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount.

Jerry Brown and wife Anne Gust on Election Night
Citywide, both Brown and Boxer took two-thirds of the vote.

And by a 50-48 margin, the Valley also supported the legalization of marijuana, though Proposition 19 was rejected statewide.
The results show that the Valley has continued moving away from its historical conservative roots, but still remains less liberal than the rest of the city, analysts said.

"The San Fernando Valley was once Reagan country, but those days were a long time ago," said Martin Saiz, professor of political science at California State University, Northridge.

"The Valley hasn't been majority Republican for quite awhile. It's a different Valley. It's not the same Valley it was in the '70s or '80s or even the '90s."

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom also won the lion's share of local votes in the lieutenant governor's race. He beat Abel Maldonado, the Republican incumbent appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, by
a 52-39 margin in the Valley and 58-31 citywide.

One big reason for the city's Democratic dominance was the large Latino vote which, according to exit polls, went better than 5 to 1 for both Brown and Boxer over their Republican opponents.

GOP billionaire Meg Whitman and former Hewlett-Packard exec Carly Fiorina each could garner only a fifth of the Latino vote in Los Angeles - an apparent repudiation for the Republican candidates' staunch opposition to immigration reform leading to citizenship, according to analysts.

Fernando Guerra, who heads Loyola's Center for the Study of Los Angeles, said he believes the gubernatorial election was decided by Whitman's handling of the issue over her former housekeeper - an illegal immigrant who worked for her for nine years.

Whitman, who claimed not to have known of her housekeeper's illegal immigration status during all that time, maintained she fired the woman when she finally learned she was in the country illegally.

"(Latinos) got a different narrative about Whitman," said Guerra. "To me that is what changed the election then and there. It wasn't just Latino voters, but especially Latino voters saw her challenged for the first time, and saw how she reacted."

Brown, who was governor from 1975-83, won the election with almost 54 percent of the overall vote, while Boxer won re-election to a fourth term with 52 percent.

Statewide, Brown and Boxer also received lopsided support from Latinos, according to polls conducted by Latino Decisions and sponsored by the National Council of La Raza, Service Employees International Union and America's Voice.
Those polls reported both Democratic candidates receiving 86 percent of the state's Latino vote.

Although the Loyola exiting polling did not inquire about the state attorney general race, officials said the strong Democratic trend in other campaigns indicates that the Valley also helped Democrat Kamala Harris overtake Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley in his home stronghold.

As of Wednesday, Harris, the San Francisco D.A., was leading in Los Angeles by more than 13 percentage points but she was barely clinging to a small margin statewide.

The Harris campaign attributed her success in Los Angeles to an intensive effort in the homestretch of the race.
"She all but lived in Los Angeles the last month," consultant Ace Smith said. "She spent every weekend in Los Angeles and made several trips during the week. It was old-fashioned hard work."

Smith said Harris also provided a more positive message to voters on what she would do as attorney general - particularly on environmental issues - while Cooley's campaign concentrated on attacks.

"He was using the death penalty and that is a decades-old battle that doesn't work anymore," Smith said.
Cooley's campaign maintained that the results are far from over.

"With the counties completing their semi-official returns, Steve Cooley trails Kamala Harris by 14,838 votes - two-tenths of a percentage point," Kevin Spillane, Cooley's consultant said in a statement. "There are over 1 million provisional and absentee ballots yet to be counted."

The voter turnout in Los Angeles County in Tuesday's election was 43 percent, according to the county Registrar-Recorder's Office.

The Loyola Marymount exit poll found that both Brown and Boxer were favored by upwards of 2-to-1 margins by men, women and white voters. Asian voters also heavily supported the two Democrats, and African American voters favored Brown and Boxer by more than a 9-to-1 margin.

The exit poll included surveys with 341 voters from the Valley, Loyola Marymount officials said, and had a margin of error on all questions of plus or minus 3 percentage points.