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Getting Away From It All  

By Frank Gruber

August 23, 2010 -- I spent the past two weeks lolling around back east on vacation. A few days in New York City, up to the North Shore of Boston to visit friends, and then a week with family at the Jersey Shore (no, not the part made infamous by Snooki, but relaxed Long Beach Island).

Lots of seafood eaten, a few cultural places visited, friendships renewed, a little sunburn, a long book almost finished, and two trips, one in New York and one to Philadelphia, to see my beloved Philadelphia Phillies play baseball, etc. -- a real vacation.

I logged in to read The Lookout everyday, but I confess I wasn’t thinking much about Santa Monica.

Except: I have to say I am amazed in the best sense of the term that the Save Our Schools campaign was so successful -- $1.5 million! (See: Foundation_Ends_Drive with More than 1.5_million_Raised ,8_17_2010) Wow. The people at the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation and the dedicated PTA members who organized the drive, the volunteers, and the donors (especially those who came from outside the parent community, and the parents who showed their willingness to give the district in general, not just to their children’s schools), are all to be commended.

Just proving once again that its schools are intrinsic to Santa Monica’s identity.

Of course, that old bumper sticker, “It’ll be a great day when education gets all the money it needs and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy bombers” is still operative. Our schools can’t educate our children on charity. It was also great to read in The Lookout (See story: SMMUSD Restores Staff Positions, 08_20_2010) that the District will be receiving federal funds that in addition to the S.O.S. donations will restore this year’s threatened cuts.

What I did do on vacation was read the New York Times a lot, and I got overloaded with national news, mostly of the “what’s the latest thing to get hysterical about” variety. The controversy over the proposed “mosque” in Lower Manhattan near the site of the 9/11 attacks filled that bill for the past two weeks.

As someone who follows national news, but studies local news, it’s hard for me to comprehend just how terrible national news reporting and commentary are. Maybe there’s just too many people covering and commenting when only so many stories can get “play.” This generates a swarm of bees mentality.

Take politics. When the 2010 mid-term elections happen, they will be real news. But it’s amazing to me how guesses, barely educated, about what the results will be, are themselves treated like big news. Right now, it seems like half the news consists of predictions about how badly the Democrats will fare in November, along with parallel stories about how President Obama’s popularity is “down.”

Unfortunately, when it comes to credibility, these stories and commentaries are coming from the same reporters and commentators who 18 months ago were reporting, in the aftermath of the 2008 election, about the imminent demise of the Republican Party.


Are all national political stories the result of reporters being manipulated by political operators pushing their narrative or does it just seem that way? The current drumbeat about how the Democrats are set to lose Congress appears to come directly from conservatives trying to weaken Obama by creating the perception that the Democrats are “out-of-touch.”

Look: the Democrats will lose seats in Congress in November. The party in the White House always loses seats in mid-term elections, especially when the economy is bad, no matter how or when it turned bad. In 2010 the trend is likely to be amplified because in 2006 and 2008 the Democrats stretched and won in some relatively conservative districts that given the historical and economic context, they are likely to lose this time.

But there’s no reason to think that the losses will be an exceptional rout, such as in 1994. For one thing, Republicans have surely made it more difficult for themselves by nominating Tea Party types in many races, including crucial senate races in Kentucky, Florida and Nevada.

But more to the point of this column, the news media did not predict the Republican landslide in 1994. It came as a shock. Anything can happen in November, and there is no reason for reporters to write about, or for readers to pay attention to, guesses masquerading as news in the summer before an election.

As for Obama’s poll numbers, which are in the mid-40s, most recent presidents have had below 50% popularity at this time in their first terms -- in fact, the only two presidents going back to Jimmy Carter who had positive ratings two years into their first terms were the two Bushes.

While there is a historical correlation between presidential popularity and how well the president’s party does in the mid-terms, there is no correlation between these numbers and a president’s success as president. Despite their popularity two years into their presidencies, George H.W. Bush failed to be reelected, and George W. Bush’s presidency was a failure. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton had numbers in the 40s before their mid-term elections, and both had successful presidencies.

What I’d like to know is how much of Obama’s “unpopularity” consists of left-wingers who are unhappy with him because he hasn’t yet perfected the world. That number could easily be, given all the griping from the Left that I’ve been reading or hearing about, 10 points in the polls. Regardless what role they play in the polls, do you doubt that all the California Lefties who are unhappy with Obama are going to vote for Barbara Boxer? Or for Obama in 2012?

Okay, I guess I’m guilty of speculating, too. Can’t wait to get back to reality -- local news.

Frank J. Gruber is the author of Urban Worrier: Making Politics Personal, available at Hennessey + Ingalls and Angel City books in Santa Monica, at City Image Press, and on

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