The LookOut columns | What I Say

Frank Gruber

That Other Election

By Frank Gruber

After squeezing three columns out of the endorsements of Santa Monicans for Renters Rights for the upcoming elections, and various columns before them about the RIFT initiative, now known as Prop. T, I believe I've earned the right to write a column about the presidential election.

First, some griping. How I envy the national pundits. It's not the fact that they can make a living off their opinions, but that (i) they can spin those opinions out of the thin air that is the mountain of national political news that is published everyday, and (ii) they can be deemed wise with prognostication batting averages that would make a utility infielder worry that he's going to be optioned to Dubuque.

Contrast that with the lot of local columnists, me for instance. True, the grist for my mill is high quality, namely the peerless reporting of The Lookout as well as that of (to be fair) the other local media we have here in Santa Monica, but let's face it, there is not a lot of news for me to recycle in the typical manner of op-ed columnists (by way of example, see the work of Maureen Dowd).

And then what if I'm wrong? People don't generally forget when you're wrong -- or when they believe you're wrong -- about something that affects them where it counts, i.e., locally, and which they probably know something about. But the national pundits: how often do their readers -- or their editors, for that matter -- review the accuracy of their predictions or the durability of their analysis over time?

But then who cares? We all know that we read those national writers we agree with, and therefore when they are wrong, we are wrong, and who wants to admit to being wrong?

Enough for personal grievances. Now for a more general one.

The past month has been a grueling one for people like me who have supported Barack Obama. With John McCain's attacks finding traction, with Obama's lead in the polls shrinking, with, until this weekend, anxiety about whom he would pick for vice president, I cannot calculate the amount of time I have wasted on the Internet looking for someone who would definitively and absolutely and finally tell me 100 percent for certain who would win the election.

I've comforted myself, however, with this fact: for all of Obama's decline in the polls, McCain's poll numbers have hardly budged -- he's stuck in the low 40s. According the authoritative Real Clear Politics average of national polls, in the past six months, McCain hit his high in March of about 46 percent. He declined in May then revived to about 45 percent at the beginning of June. By the end of June, which was the month during which Obama finally secured the Democratic nomination, McCain was down to about 41 percent.

Now, for the all the hullabaloo about his taking the initiative against Obama, McCain's at 43.6 percent. True, Obama declined from a peak of 48.5 percent in the beginning of July to about 45 percent, but there's no evidence in the polling data that McCain has expanded his support from his base of Republicans and conservative independents.

The question will be: will it be easier for Obama to close a deal with voters who have been inclined to vote for him before, or for McCain to persuade voters who have not previously considered voting for him?

I don't mean by posing this question to say that Obama will win: no prognosticating here. The candidates will be battling over whether the election will be a referendum on the Bush administration or a vote about whatever tar the McCain campaign can brush Obama with, and the outcome of that is not predictable.

My point is simple, however, and obvious, and it's about the media. Which is that for all the ink and pixels that were spilled this past month, McCain's yes vote rose from 41 to 43.6 percent.

I could have spent less time reading the papers and surfing the web in near hysteria and more time enjoying summer's end.

* * *

Of course there are blogs, etc., that are indispensable. In the promotion of family department, let me inform those readers who (i) liked my son Henry's guest column back in June when he graduated from Santa Monica High School, and (ii) would like to read a personal blog about the Democratic convention in Denver written from the frame of reference of a recent graduate of Samohi, that Henry is attending the convention and writing a blog about it; the link is

* * *

One local observation. Last week I wrote about the SMRR decision to endorse José Escarce, which resulted in Judith Meister's departure from the race. Based on responses I received to the article, there is another angle to this story. Various parents involved in the P.T.S.A. are telling me that they are just as upset with the teachers union, which also did not endorse Ms. Meister, as they are with SMRR.

Ms. Meister has long been involved in the P.T.S.A., having been president of the organization at both John Adams Middle School and Samohi. What I've been told by other P.T.S.A. leaders is that they are not so much upset with the teachers union's endorsement of Mr. Escarce and the other incumbents, which they understand, but rather with the endorsement of newcomer Ben Allen instead of Ms. Meister.

Mr. Allen is a recent graduate from Boalt Hall law school. His primary qualifications for the school board are that he was a student member of the University of California Board of Regents and locally has served on the district's Financial Oversight Committee; he also has ties to SMRR.

Although they didn't say anything negative about Mr. Allen, the P.T.S.A. parents I heard from are outraged that the union endorsed him instead of a parent running for the board who has spent years, as part of the P.T.S.A., supporting the teachers of the district.

As a rule, I am not in favor of term limits and I would never vote for them. Yet I have to ask: why should anyone want to be on the school board for more than two terms? If you haven't done what you wanted to do in eight years, isn't it time to give someone else -- the Ben Allens and the Judith Meisters of the world -- the opportunity?

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The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of
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