The Widening Gyre: The Filner Follies and the Ugly Real Politik

by on July 22, 2013 · 6 comments

in Civil Rights

Circus paradeThe “political circus” is in town for a long engagement and it is already clear that we have plenty of clowns lining up to perform in it.

By Jim Miller

Last week, in the wake of the first round of accusations of sexual harassment and Filner’s apology for “not fully respecting” and “intimidating” women I noted that: “Thus, the real winners here are the same old downtown insiders who are busy popping champagne corks and laughing at Filner’s implosion and cheering the welcome help they are getting from unlikely sources.”

Nothing has happened to change this assessment.

Some Filner supporters I have spoken to and who commented on my piece chastised me for being too pessimistic but, sadly, I don’t think I am.

While it is now clear that Filner is digging in, his base of support is split and he will never regain the ability to press a bold progressive agenda against entrenched downtown interests. Those who think otherwise are simply not facing the stark political reality that his admitted actions have brought upon us. Big wins require significant political support and Filner has foolishly squandered the political capital that may have enabled him to do big things.

Thus what we are left with is ugly realpolitik. As Doug Porter’s fine column  last Friday pointed out, Filner isn’t going anywhere quickly and the unimpressive turnout at the recall rally last Friday doesn’t bode well for that effort unless they get a boatload of money tossed their way quickly (which is certainly possible). This assures us that the “political circus” is in town for a long engagement and it is already clear that we have plenty of clowns lining up to perform in it.

Indeed last week was the kind of week that tempts one to embrace Mark Twain’s famous condemnation of the “damn human race” in which he informs the reader that,

“I have been studying the traits and dispositions of the ‘lower animals’ (so-called), and contrasting them with the traits and dispositions of man. I find the result humiliating to me. For it obliges me to renounce my allegiance to the Darwinian theory of the Ascent of Man from the Lower Animals; since it now seems plain to me that the theory ought to be vacated in favor of a new and truer one, this new and truer one to be named the Descent of Man from the Higher Animals.”

I say this because I find myself thoroughly disgusted with the whole circus starting with the mayor himself. As I noted last week, whether his actions amount to something criminal and worthy of resignation or not, he is, at a minimum, criminally stupid for betraying the trust of his allies and making it unlikely that his policy agenda survives in anything other than a small way.

Note to Filner supporters: He is not innocent of any wrongdoing. You don’t release a DVD apology for intimidating and not fully respecting women if you are innocent of all wrongdoing. You don’t go on TV and talk about “the monster inside of me” if you haven’t done something pretty shoddy. You don’t announce that you “need help” if you are pure as the driven snow.

Even if he beats the odds and survives this and tries to redeem himself and do some good work, he has already done much harm to his agenda and to the women he admits to not fully respecting and intimidating whether it technically and legally amounts to sexual harassment or not.

Filner supporters who trivialize his admission of bad behavior hurt their own cause and some of the comments I have read here and elsewhere betray a deep insensitivity to the reality of sexism and the widespread abuse of women in American society.

Let me be clear, I’m not saying that a majority of his supporters are doing this, but if you read the comments sections in the media across the board, there is far too much of this. If you don’t get that he has admitted to seriously harmful behavior, you need to do some more self-reflection.

filner presserNote to the not-so-dynamic trio who have appointed themselves as the saviors of the thus-far-unnamed accusers of the mayor and of our city: however well-intended, your surreal performances are bush league and embarrassing. As my friend visiting from the Bay Area said after viewing the second press conference, “Who the hell are these people? They seem unhinged.”

Screaming at people who ask valid questions about due process and arrogantly posturing without bringing forth anything but accusations makes you look suspect even if you have a good case.

So does Marco Gonzalez trolling the San Diegans for Bob Filner Facebook page and engaging in petty squabbles with other posters. See Update below: When Democratic power brokers  gather to discuss who will replace Filner before the party decides whether or not to call on him to step down and before you actually bring a case or an accuser forward invites all kinds of political speculation.

UPDATE: Lorena Gonzalez contacted the author after this was posted, telling him that the NBC report referenced here was wrong, and the meeting was actually convened by Congressman Juan Vargas.

Erring on the side of caution might have been a better course of action. As I said last week: “just trust me” doesn’t cut it nor does trying to rig the final outcome. The way this whole thing went down and the inside game maneuvering around it hasn’t served the community well.

To say that you are doing this to protect the victims is a kind of faux feminism that sounds a lot more like the patronizing patriarchal ideology of the cult of true womanhood in the 19th century than a genuine call for justice. I believe that you think you are on the side of the angels but justice requires that the women stand up for themselves.

Women and their allies fought hard to establish the laws that make sexual harassment a crime. To claim that women are too frail to stand up for themselves in 2013 betrays an unconscious condescension and paternalism however noble your motives. Yes, it will be hard and some people will be uncharitable, but others will stand with them and insist they get a fair hearing and due process.

It’s time to stop holding press conferences and make the case with fewer dramatics and more professionalism and dignity. The women deserve due process and Filner deserves due process. This is the only way justice rather than political gamesmanship will be served.

At best, you’ve ham-handedly brought the cart before the horse; at worst you’ve engaged in a failed political strategy that may not result in any justice being done while destroying the progressive coalition that elected Filner and empowering the enemies of real systemic change in San Diego.

A big fat lemon also goes out to the group of moneyed insiders drafting the ever-opportunistic shape shifter Nathan Fletcher to save the day. It’s clear that there are folks in town who think they get to make the calls for the whole city, that it’s their world and the rest of us are just living in it. No thanks to your help. Lots of us don’t buy the Fletcher flimflam  and anointing him before this whole thing plays out isn’t saving us; it’s bringing us back to the bad old days.

Additionally, I know it’s easy, but the local and national media get an obvious raspberry for amplifying the spectacle while illuminating virtually nothing. That’s just what they do. Special recognition, however, goes to Scott Lewis at the Voice of San Diego  for attacking calls for due process before resignation as “clever” but “ludicrous.” I don’t expect much from our local information landscape, but this is a new low.

You don’t have to be a supporter of Filner to uphold this principle, you just have to have principles and stand for basic fairness for everyone in the largest sense even when it’s not easy to do so. By making this cynical case Mr. Lewis displays neither cleverness nor principle.

So what is the ugly realpolitik bottom line for progressives?

It has to do with how you answer this question: Is it better to have a deeply flawed and politically wounded Filner for a while longer (likely one term at best if he survives an investigation, court case, or recall one way or the other) or do you see some gain in ditching him and his entire progressive policy agenda because he hurts progressives’ goals more than helps them by sticking around?

Let’s be clear, a Faulconer, Fletcher, or Gloria led San Diego would be a return to business as usual in our city. It would cast advocates for social justice and historically underrepresented groups and neighborhoods back into the political wilderness for the indefinite future. But, if you say keep Filner, you are left with all of his baggage and risk looking like you excuse bad behavior toward women. If you say, ditch him, then you are calling for a return of power to the shadow government of moneyed interests that have run this town for its entire history, like it or not. Or can he beat the odds while admitting the errors of his ways and serve as a redemptive example in some form or another?

loseTo cast this as a choice between morality and politics ignores the reality that politics have moral consequences and a real effect on people’s lives. There are more or less moral budgets, more or less moral policies, and more or less moral kinds of personal behavior. You can’t separate them out; they’re intrinsically interrelated. Hence, it’s a big hot murky mess.

Ugly if he stays, ugly if he goes.

That said, if he hangs on against the current, let’s hope we can get a few good things done in the midst of the maelstrom and, at the same time, shine a light on the pervasiveness of sexism and sexual misconduct by men in power. That’s all we have to hope for now.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Marilyn July 22, 2013 at 11:15 am

Somehow, I just can’t forget Popaditch supporters attacking Filner physically at Golden Hall. That incident causes me to wonder about the motives around all of this. I don’t believe it is just a matter of women being pawed.


cahlo July 23, 2013 at 5:13 am

your imagination is working overtime……


Chev Chelios July 22, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Look what just happened to Filner…

Gloria Allred filing harassment lawsuit vs. Bob Filner

Boom goes the dynamite!


JuanCarolos July 22, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Who are these downtown insiders popping champagne corks?
Name some names….really.


Dan Shay July 22, 2013 at 5:09 pm
Frances O'Neill Zimmerman July 22, 2013 at 9:05 pm

With today’s appearance of attorney Gloria Allred, all dressed in red, and her client, the Gloria Steinem look-alike Irene McCormack, the Mayor will have his work cut out for him. Frankly, I found it a relief. Charges will be filed in Superior Court — not at the City. There is an accuser, finally. Filner will mount a defense. It IS due process. They finally got around to it, however tardily and grudgingly.

No more client-trolling in the public square by lawyers Marco Gonzalez and Cory Briggs — where is the Bar Association on the propriety of that display? — and blessedly no third round of harridan Donna Frye.

No more VOSD artful dodger Scott Lewis at last opining — when it was clear the hue and cry for resignation wasn’t working — it’s not about “due process,” it’s about “free speech” — anybody can say anything they want. Glad you noticed, Jim.

No more KPBS running the same Filner-damning material day after day — even twice using DeMaio’s campaign manager to discuss Filner’s political crisis management! — hoping it would stick with repetition.

No more CityBeat, editorially calling twice for Filner to step down by siding with its longtime crush Assemblyman Lorena Gonzalez, sister of lawyer Marco.

Undoubtedly there will be continuing calumny from the daily paper and its ludicrous TV channel and new Koch-funded Watchdog Trent Seibert. The best article I’ve read was written last Saturday by Gail Collins in the NYT because she outlined exactly how corrupt and venal San Diego has always been and what a blow it has been for Filner to betray the liberal agenda by selfish actions.

I could go on, but I won’t. Damage has been done. Thanks, Bob. Democrats seem to be their own worst enemies. There are few liberals among them, IMO. Somebody said there are no DINOs either, only opportunists. Hi, Nathan. Progressives are often faint-hearted and fall by the wayside when the going gets tough. Yo, so many of you. But all well-meaning people, including the Mayor, can pick themselves up, dust themselves off, repent and reform and move on, improving the way this city is run. This needs to happen no matter how disappointed people are.

Let me cite one small example of our awful past versus why we need Filner to carry on.
(Mind, I haven’t had the chance to test my theory, but I’m betting that Mayor Filner will look into rampant commercialism being allowed in San Diego’s green park spaces once my complaint is brought forward.)

I sit on a La Jolla Parks & Beaches subcommittee, a group that advises City Park and Recreation. At its monthly meeting today I asked a Lifeguard representative in attendance why, yesterday afternoon, I had seen a big Toyota banner and a bunch of recent-model Toyota SUVs ON THE GRASS IN THE MIDDLE OF LA JOLLA COVE PARK.

I was told this was part of a deal between the City and Toyota approved a year and a half ago by our estimable City Council and then-Mayor Sanders: several dozen free Toyota Lifeguard vehicles (with lots of corporate signage on them) were exchanged for Toyota/Lifeguard-sponsored beach-safety education days in public San Diego venues, plus REGULAR MARKETING OPPORTUNITIES for Toyota to sell its cars openly — including on the grass of an iconic public park on a Sunday afternoon.

We’ve still got a strong liberal Mayor and there many many matters needing redress and a grander vision for the City’s future. I think we should hang in there together.


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