LA Times offers bizarre critique of Tom Campbell

It is interesting that in a Los Angeles Times article, Senate candidate Tom Campbell is criticized for dreaming high and sometimes “tilt[ing] at windmills.” What is further puzzling is how the critique has surprisingly little to actually criticize Campbell about, and seems to turn positive attributes into problematic issues.

The May 19 piece knocked Senate candidate Tom Campbell for not playing by the political rulebook. The article faulted Campbell early on for helping to author Governor Schwarzenegger’s 2005 bid to lower state spending (which was a good and reasonable idea, but ultimately failed). The article paints Campbell as “the mastermind” behind this and other “bills that went nowhere.” 

Despite the fact that the article title includes a description of Campbell as a “nonconformist,” the article later says that nameless others who “have watched his career” have described him as someone who “refuses to bend ideologically and sometimes tilts at windmills.”

The article seems to fault Campbell (who they write is “known for his work ethic and an appreciation for big ideas” and who tends to “refuse to compromise”) for being ambitious and intellectually tenacious.  The article goes further, and subtly digs at Campbell for not trying to fit in and conform, as well as for what the author perceives adds up to Campbell not “necessarily play[ing] well in the halls of power.”

Campbell, as the article points out, has not been the unbending ideologue referenced earlier, but in fact, “broke with GOP leaders by supporting gun control and abortion rights” and broke ranks in other instances as well.

Is it not the right approach to be moderate these days, between economic distress, sky high taxes and a state deficit of $20 billion? It’s time for a new approach, not a prettied-up recycling of the same failed approach which brought us to this point.  

It is quite interesting that the most damning evidence the article offers against a Campbell win is his financial experience, that not all of his bills became law, and that he is somewhere between a sometimes-compromiser and nonconformist. Specifically on the bills front, the article faults Campbell for writing 104 different bills, “only two” of which were eventually voted into law. The article further compares bill passage percentages as a way of determining political success: “That [Campbell’s average] is about one-third the average success rate of the 51 other representatives of California.”  It almost feels as though the author, perhaps out of apathy or some sense that there was so little on Campbell to complain about, felt it was necessary to start using neutral-to-positive factoids as augurs of failure for a Campbell win.

A sizeable bloc of voters, however, has taken note of Campbell’s record and pragmatism, as reflected in a recent poll that pegs Campbell as only one point behind Senator Barbara Boxer.  Apparently, these voters feel he is up to the task. 

In a recent San Francisco Chronicle opinion piece, Debra J. Saunders called Campbell a “moderate on fire.” The Bakersfield Californian gave a wholehearted endorsement to the “social[ly] moderate” Campbell. The piece calls Campbell “practical, realistic and astute,” three words which the LA Times article either mentions or dances around, and yet paints in a more damning than adulatory manner.

It is amazing how different two representations of the same evidence can be.