Polls, Pols and Propositions | 20th Anniversary Edition | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

Polls, Pols and Propositions 

Twenty years of political coverage

Wednesday, Nov 18 1998

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In fact, the story had about as much hard sourcing as the creationist account of the origins of the Earth. It quoted "two impeccable sources . . . people of stature in their respective fields." One, "a long-standing resident of Washington," recounted how a friend of his who worked in Bush’s office told him about Bush’s affair with his secretary (whom his friend characterized as "an incredible bitch" — imparting a happy air of verisimilitude, at least, to an otherwise skimpy account). The second source, who was identified as a figure in the film industry, said that his friend had also had an affair with Bush. (That’s not a synopsis of the source’s account; that’s the totality of it.)

Fast-forward four years to the next presidential campaign, and a candidate we found far more compelling than Bush. If there’s been a better pol than Bill Clinton in the ’92 campaign, I haven’t seen him. Here he is in a Westside Chicago church on the Sunday before the Illinois primary, locking down the Democratic nomination, adjusting his stump speech to the cadence of the black congregation, and the three-piece band that plays throughout his talk, touching on themes of sin and redemption (it was just after the Gennifer Flowers dustup) that were to dog his entire presidency, and touching the congregation — and the constituency it represented — more deeply than any political leader of his generation:

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"The church is not a place for saints, but for sinners," he begins, "but all of us are called to do the Lord’s work." Amens echo again — and the organ and drums, too; apparently, they will accompany Clinton throughout. Clinton then adapts his stock speech to the sensibility and rhythm of the church. He omits his statistics on rising income inequality and conveys their sense in short rhythmical sentences: "It is honestly true, more people are working harder for less." He cites experiments in tenant-managed projects, model schools, community-development banks. After each, he says, "If it can be so, why can’t it be so everywhere else?" The drums roll, the guitar and organ riff for a second, the amens rise. "We are tired of being divided by race! [Music and amens.] We are tired of being divided by gender! [Music and amens.] We are tired of being divided by income! [Music and amens.]" And then, raising his voice, he closes with scriptural passages about faith and redemption; he shouts it over the music and the congregation’s own shouts, and he leaves the crowd in ecstasy.

In the 1992 Democratic presidential primary, the Weekly offered its readers three, count ’em, three endorsements — one for Clinton, one for Jerry Brown, one for nobody (an early example of Third Way thinking). By November, we offered only one, for Clinton (as we had for Dukakis four years earlier and Mondale four years before that). And then, over the next four years, as universal health coverage was picked apart by the business lobbies, and as a welfare-to-work bill became a welfare-termination-with-or-without-work law, we reassessed. The following passage appeared on the occasion of Clinton’s second inaugural:

Is Clinton simply a victim of a more conservative time, a Roosevelt manqué born 60 years too late? Not quite. It is impossible to imagine Clinton telling the nation, as Roosevelt did, that he welcomes hatred of any kind, let alone the hatred of the most prominent elements in American society . . . A pit bull when he campaigns against rival politicos, Clinton turns into a pussycat when major economic powers threaten his program.

Who, asked Yeats, can tell the dancer from the dance? And whatever we’ve thought about this pol or that over the past 20 years, the world has been moving — and pushing pols rightward — to a relentlessly capitalist beat.

II. The City Is Changed Utterly

But while the world has been growing meaner, Los Angeles has grown more fascinating, complex, potentially progressive — and quite unrecognizable by the standards of 1978. A largely white and middle-income city has become a largely nonwhite city with a thriving professional class, not much in the way of a middle-income population, and a vast number of working poor. And looking back, if we say so ourselves, it’s been the Weekly, more than any other outlet in town, that has chronicled and analyzed these changes, and laid out a series of progressive solutions to the problems that have come in their wake.

In the ’80s, we took out after the downtown developer lobby (and its City Hall friends) that was overdeveloping much of the city even as South-Central couldn’t entice a supermarket chain to open up a single ä franchise there. We supported a campaign to legalize the sidewalk vending that had sprung up in the new immigrant communities. Rubén Martínez covered the Rev. Luis Olivares and his battles to grant sanctuary to undocumented immigrants pursued by the INS. Olivares himself co-authored a piece for the Weekly in which he defended the immigrants who "have come to Los Angeles — to live furtively, fearfully, often miserably, in the shadows of the glistening towers of downtown." And often in very crowded conditions: At the rate of residential density that the government said existed around MacArthur Park, we calculated in another piece, 164 people could live in Aaron Spelling’s new Holmby Hills mansion.

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