Editorial: Cluelessness Rampant By Becky O'Malley

Becky O'Malley
Friday August 13, 2004

Chalabys in the news again. Treason, espionage, murder…who knows where it will end? And who’s surprised? Evidently, yet again, the people in Washington who are supposed to be running the country. It’s scary. What I still fail to understand (and I’m sorry to keep coming back to this point, but it haunts me) is how many of us here in little Berkeley, not to mention our friends in New York and Boston and even in Illinois, West Virginia and Indiana, knew from day one that Chalabys I and II were bad apples, and Bush’s guys didn’t. It’s been all over the Internet, in letters to the editor in hundreds of papers, and the subject of conversation in probably thousands of cafes around the world. 

One image from Fahrenheit 9/11 that sticks with me is a little clip from the opening scenes: top presidential advisor Paul Wolfowitz, spitting on his comb and combing his hair with saliva. In front of the camera. How could he not have known (a) that the camera was running and (b) that most people do not comb their hair with saliva, and in fact find it deeply disgusting. Or if he knew these things, why didn’t he care?  

The same analysis could be applied to his championing of the Chalabys and their ilk. What he lacks, in common with evidently the whole of the Bush administration, is the decent respect for the opinions of mankind which was cited as the basis for the Declaration of Independence. Politicians are accused of relying too much on polls, of playing too much to the gallery, and yet this crowd seems to pride itself on ignorance of what “everyone knows.” They make much of their connection to higher powers, but something seems to have gotten lost in the transmission from their sources, and they don’t hear the voices from the streets. 

Even locally, it’s possible to discern that many active in electoral politics don’t seem to know what everyone else knows, or to care much about what everyone else thinks. It’s inconceivable that a councilmember’s aide, a 20-year veteran in the job, could have missed the change to Berkeley’s election law which requires nominating signatures to be collected within the district, but it happened. Hours of council meeting time were devoted to this topic, but somehow he missed it. Go figure. 

A very quick glance at the campaign contribution forms for November City Council candidates which were turned in on July 30 suggests that other candidates are not paying attention to the zeitgeist. In a city that’s clearly tired of over-development, at least one candidate lists multiple “maxed-out” gifts from well-known proponents of controversial up-zoning schemes. You’d think he would at least have had the decency to wait, as is traditional in Berkeley, for the last post-election filing to report these donors, so that the November voters wouldn’t hear about it. But no, it’s right there now on the city’s website for all to see. And it will be in the Daily Planet. Some will say that this candidate should get extra credit for honesty, I suppose, but others will say that he’s just clueless, or simply doesn’t care what others think. 

Another candidate, who filed on the last day, claims in her ballot statement to be endorsed by almost all of the neighborhood groups in her district. Since she has just announced her candidacy, that would be impossible, since they have to meet and vote to endorse. Oh well. Facts. 

Our little local elections don’t compete with the national ones for gravitas, of course. Our local schemers don’t rise to the level of a Wolfowitz or a Rumsfeld. Our dumb-seeming candidates couldn’t be as dumb as Dubya.  

Still, it is certainly boring now, and will be boring during future local campaigns, to hear officials and candidates say, for example, that they had NO IDEA there was anything wrong with the Gaia Building, and that they fully expected to find a lovely bookstore on the ground floor by now. I hate to say it, but we told you so, and we-the-people (now there’s a much-abused slogan) will continue to tell you what’s going on, whether or not you want to hear it. Candidates and councilmembers should listen more and talk less. But perhaps that’s asking too much. 

—Becky O’Malley