Phil Angelides, the Democrat allegedly running for governor against Arnold Schwarzenegger, is metamorphosing from forgettable also-ran to oddball footnote. I’m sure he’s still out on the stump telling people about his middle-class tax cut and all the good things he would do if he’s elected. That’s the forgettable also-ran part, and too bad, because Angelides has earnestness to spare, some idea of what the state needs, and the willingness to try to get people to pay for the things they want the state to do (translation: he’ll talk about tax increases). Schwarzenegger, who reverted to form as an ill-spoken, bullying boor during the one face-to-face meeting of the campaign, continues with the fiction that the state can do everything it wants without ever raising taxes. Popular message, though no one is talking much about how Arnold managed to balance the budget after he took over in 2004: the state took out a second mortgage to cover a catastrophic deficit; eventually, someone’s going to have to pay that money back. But I digress.
So the handwriting’s on the wall for Angelides. He’s way, way down in the polls and headed for a repeat of Kathleen Brown’s humiliation at the hands of Pete Wilson in 1994 (she lost 55-41). In his darkest hour, though, he’s begun a TV ad blitz with a new spot. This is where he’s bidding to become an oddball footnote: The ad, which tells in 30 seconds about Angelides’s lifelong commitment to public service, is so off-key in conception and message it seems loopy.
It opens with a silhouette of a guy looking at a bulletin board with a big “Dump Nixon” poster. As the silhouette hurriedly scribbles notes, a voiceover says, “In 1972, a young man from California saw a sign that changed his life forever and inspired him to make a difference.” Then we go to a montage of Angelides’s career. Among other accomplishments, he “led school reform in his community and helped California make history.” The ad notes that he’s been called “the most effective and dynamic state treasurer in a generation.”
I’ll pause to let you catch your breath.
Then there’s the background music. As the empty phrases and pictures flit past, the Bellamy Brothers sing “Let Your Love Flow.” (If you need to remind yourself what that sounds like, you can play the ad on the Angelides site or on YouTube.) Maybe there’s a coded message in the lyrics (“There’s a reason for the sunshine sky/There’s a reason, I’m feeling so high…”). Otherwise, it sounds like something the candidate or his wife finds inspiring. That’s the kind of information I wish had been disclosed before I voted for the guy in the primary.
What you can say for the ad is that it takes the high road. It alleges that Phil will fight for me and that he’s always been on my side. It’s also sweet and sticky as treacle and doesn’t tell me one thing to get me to admit to someone else that I’m casting a ballot for this candidate or suggest to them that maybe they should think about doing the same. “Dump Nixon”? Who’s that supposed to win over? Are we supposed to be impressed that that lit a fire under him?
You wonder if people can make heads or tails out of any of it. You’d think the money could be better spent on ads or a Perot-style TV appearance to lay out what this guy would do for the state and why it might be necessary to raise taxes for Californians to have the state they say they want to have.