The Tuesday debate between Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman illuminated the drastic contrast between the two candidates. It was a classic battle of public servant versus business tycoon. The two combatants presented diametrically opposing views on most topics, but nowhere was the contrast more stark than in their divergent commitment to honesty.
To his credit, Jerry Brown shared his beliefs and priorities in a direct and sincere manner. It’s unlikely that he won over any supporters with his eloquence or flawless articulation, as he did spend a fair amount of time sputtering and at times trailed off into incomplete thoughts. But all things considered, it’s hard to see how viewers who hadn’t already made up their minds would not be at least somewhat captivated by his frankness.
The current Attorney General spoke on both his past record and his plans for the future with openness and candor. When asked about his personal pension, currently due to be over $78,000, he replied that at age 72, he was “the best pension buy California has ever seen,” and he added that should he win in November, the buy would get even better. And at only 20 minutes into the debate, Brown was just getting warmed up with a personable style that would show throughout the event.
Brown’s absence of guile even touched the sharp edge of fumbling when asked why Californians should trust his commitment to the state in light of his past flirtations with the presidency. The former 3-time presidential candidate’s response was a candid “Age! You know if I was younger, I’d run again.” But Brown didn’t leave it there. Instead, he continued, “Now I have a wife, so I’m home at night and don’t try to close the bars in Sacramento.” Endearing? Possibly. Foot in his mouth? At least a couple toes. Honest? There is no doubt.
Most of the debate proceeded in similar fashion, with Brown often shooting from the hip and Whitman being more scripted and sticking to her talking points. But the real fulcrum for revealing their individual veracity came on a question from a college student asking Brown if he would roll back UC and CSU fee hikes from recent years. Brown’s response was “Not my first year, not with a $19 billion deficit. We have to get real here.” His answer was certainly not what the student wanted to hear, but it may have very well been music to the ears of those who want real solutions.
When the same question was posed to Whitman, the former eBay CEO seemed to forget about the state’s deficit and spoke instead of her plans to add $1 billion to higher education. She did take the time to elaborate on the topic, revealing that she would get the money from cuts in welfare, but failed to explain why she wouldn’t apply the savings to the budget shortfall. She also failed to be honest about the situation with welfare in California.
Whitman’s spin on the welfare issue is indicative of her general attitude toward the truth. California’s welfare state being a talking point of her campaign, she reiterated her “facts” on the matter at the debate. The situation according to Whitman is that the welfare problem in California is so bad that there are five times more welfare cases than in New York but only double the population. This really does reflect a problem, only the problem is with Ms. Whitman’s penchant for skewed “facts” and wild spin.
California’s population is indeed roughly twice as large as New York’s, but that’s about the full extent to which Whitman’s “facts” and the truth actually coincide. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are a whopping 1.4 million recipients of welfare in California and only 389,586 in New York, for a ratio of 3.6:1. Still significantly higher than the corresponding population ratio but not the 5x multiplier pushed by Whitman. The truth is that Whitman’s deception is based upon completely ignoring New York’s separate state welfare program (SSP) and looking solely at their TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) recipients — a completely disingenuous comparison, since the combined TANF/SSP totals are what impacts the state budget.
And Whitman’s skewing of the caseload numbers doesn’t even begin to convey the degree of her dishonesty. Misinformation Meg relies on the New York welfare comparison to frame a picture of an out of control California government and the dire need for fiscal reform. She uses a distorted caseload number to make her point but oddly never mentions expenditures. Why? Because based on the most recent data available, New York spent nearly as much on public welfare as California. The 2008 totals were $33.4 million compared to $35 million. New York’s per capita expense was $1,710, and California’s a comparatively meager $955.
This much focus on Whitman’s distortion of the welfare story may seem a bit much. If it was an isolated instance, it could appropriately be overlooked, but such is not the case. The truth is that Queen Meg’s deception has been evidenced consistently throughout her campaign. Her ads openly attack Jerry Brown on his record as governor, lying about his records on taxes and jobs. She pretends to be factual on his record as mayor of Oakland but instead presents a fictitious tale of slander. She lies about state spending, talks out of both sides of her mouth on immigration, posits fallacious nonsense about tax cuts and job creation, spins some seriously illegitimate yarns on California’s business situation and does it all with conviction and a smile.
Politicians in general are not known for their truthfulness, so maybe Meg Whitman has just come down with a serious case of politi-deception-itus. Whatever the case, the Red Queen seems completely unable to curtail her deceit and refrain from perverting the truth. When it comes to Whitman, the old joke seems to fit like a glove: how do you tell when Meg Whitman is lying? That’s right — just look and see if her lips are moving.