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Accentuate the Negative

Looking for a way out, Governor? Turn the heat onto yourself.

September 26, 2003|Rob Long | Rob Long is a contributing editor for the National Review.

All right, I'll say it: I feel sorry for Gray Davis.

There he is, flying across the state, signing idiotic legislation, desperately pandering to this subgroup or that, scratching and flailing like a rat in a coffee can and all anyone can think is, "The man surely can comb himself a mean-looking part in his hair."

But there is a way, I've discovered, for Gray Davis to beat this recall.

It's a tricky thing, this ballot. Think about it: To vote no is to essentially vote yes. "No on the recall" means "Yes, more Gray Davis, please." This may not be confusing to those of us who read and write oped pieces for the newspapers (two groups mostly made up, let's face it, of the same people), but it could quite possibly be confusing to -- how can I put this? -- slightly less detail-oriented Californians.

Actually, it's foggy for all of us. "How are you going to vote," a friend asked me the other day, "yes or no on Davis?"

"Yes," I said.

"You like Davis?"

"No, I mean no."

"On the recall?"

"No. Yes."

"On Davis?"

"On the recall."


"Right. You?"

This is what computer hackers and virus makers call "a flaw in the operation system," and it could offer a last, real chance to a crafty, desperate politician with no sense of restraint and nothing left to lose. But such a morally compromised, deeply dishonest politician would also need to have demonstrated an ability -- no, an enthusiasm -- for running ferociously negative campaign ads.

Where to find such a politician? Let's think.

Oh, hello, Governor. Have a seat. Let me pitch you a few winning campaign ads.

They're all standard attack ads. Don't look confused; you know exactly what I'm talking about. Governor, this isn't going to work if you're going to play games. Attack ads are what you do. Sit back and picture this:

We call this one, "Send a Message."

Fade in: grainy black and white footage of Davis, in slow motion. Pick the shots that make him look the most venal.

Sound effects: spooky music.

Male voice-over (in a voice conveying disgust and baffled rage): "When California faced its most devastating energy crisis, Gov. Gray Davis sat back and played the blame game. Then, when California suffered its worst budget crisis ever, Gray Davis did nothing. And now Gov. Davis wants us to vote on his costly recall? Haven't we had enough? Send Gray Davis a message. Vote no on Davis and give California back to Californians."

Fast voice-over: "Paid for by Citizens for Say No on the Davis Thing."

Or how about this one, which we call "Don't Let Davis Murder Your Family."

Fade in: newspaper headline clips -- "Californians Face Energy Squeeze." "Davis: 'Not My Fault.' " "Budget Crisis Looms." Etc.

Sound: music from "Psycho."

Female voice-over (in a voice conveying both disappointment, resignation and urgency): "Gray Davis has been the worst governor in California history. The Redding Advertiser has called him 'derelict' and 'up for sale.' The San Francisco Chronicle has said that Davis 'showed a lack of leadership.' And now Gray Davis wants us to vote for him again.

"Californians can't afford more Gray Davis. On Oct. 7, vote no on Gray Davis."

Fast voice-over: "Paid for by Californians Against."

Here's another.

Fade in: street scene.

Ordinary male Californian: "My car tax just shot up!"

Ordinary female Californian: "This budget crisis is out of control!"

Elderly female Californian: "I can barely afford to heat my house!"

Elderly male Californian: "Where's Gray Davis in all of this mess?"

Ordinary female Californian: "His costly recall means higher taxes! I'm voting no."

Elderly male Californian: "No!"

Elderly female Californian: "No!"

These are just rough pitches, Governor. But they seem like the best hope for a Davis victory.

Think about it: You'll be the first politician to win an election by going negative -- on himself.

Sleep on it. And if you try it, and it works, I have just one teensy request. I'd like my house reassessed at its 1971 value.

Don't look at me like that, Governor. You've given away a lot more for a lot less.

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