Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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Inside Looking Out vs. Outside Looking In

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Meg Whitman

Meg Whitman’s gubernatorial campaign is out with a new ad (actually, it was released over the weekend) — an ad that provides a glimpse into how campaigns work in the sense of balancing critical reviews against long-term goals.

The thrust of the 30-second spot, titled “Doing” (visible here): frugality.

Here’s the key line:  “Government will never be a business. It shouldn’t be a business. But it does need a dose of how do we do more for less.”

Let’s parse that phrase: more for less.

First, it’s a clever way of preempting Whitman’s likely rival this fall, Attorney General Jerry Brown — Brown, back in the day when he ran the state, having popularized the phrase “less is more”.

In fact, here’s what Brown told the Los Angeles Times back in February 2009: “You’ve got to find ways of doing more with less; I was the original guy on that . . . Mr. Less-is-More, that was me.”

Second, it puts the governor’s race on a more favorable ground for Whitman, which is management smarts — not knowledge of how to run a government, how to deal with the Legislature or how to balance California’s competing interests (advantage: Jerry), but how to govern in a way that’s more efficient, more streamlined (advantage: Meg).

But third — and here’s part that makes for a fun debate — the ad encourages Whitman’s critics to point out — and the media to keep on reporting — the irony of a record-spending campaign peddling a message of dollar-stretching.

So why would Team Whitman do this — seemingly, lead with its chin?

My guess is it could be as simple as the Whitman campaign having testing the message and seeing that it’s pretty darn effective in these tough economic times and government deficits.

That, and while her foes bray about all the campaign spending, with the help of this and other ads Whitman is quietly establishing herself with the California electorate as a no-nonsense business manager. If so, then the campaign’s willing to absorb the daily $$ hits from the press safe in the knowledge they’re moving the ball down the field.

It goes to shows that the competing perspectives in politics — the media on the outside looking in, and the campaign on the inside looking out — can draw very different conclusions.

This would seem the key contest in coming week of the California campaign: will Whitman continue to cement her reputation as a skilled business leader capable of taming the beast in Sacramento, or will her opponents succeed in chipping away at that reputation by lampooning her campaign’s “meg-a” spending? Whoever wins this battle over narrative probably wins the war in November.

btw, speaking of Whitman’s growth as a newbie candidate and media reviews, I recommend this column by the LAT’s George Skelton as for bellwether for the upcoming referendum on government knowledge vs. street smarts.


Written by Bill Whalen

April 1, 2010 at 11:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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