I got plenty of reasons to be mad with Governor Davis, but his spending so much time raising money isn’t one of them. We should blame our own selves for that one.
The amounts being raised by the Governor and his supporters are so large, you’ve got to break them down into chunks even to understand them.

The Secretary of State’s office says that the Davis re-election campaign raised a little over a million dollars between January 20th and February 16th of this year.

Assuming they took off one day a week, that means Davis was bringing in close to $46,000 a day, every day, or about $3,800 an hour, if you figure for 12-hour days.
That’s obscene, and the Governor has been catching hell from the press and the Republicans because of it. But the truth is, without money, it’s getting harder and harder to get the voters’ attention.

The Secretary of State’s office reports that out of the more than $14 million spent by the Davis re-election campaign in 2001 and 2002, almost half was spent in the first couple of months of this year, for television ads that were aired for the March primaries.

Ads are so valuable…and so powerful…because we’re easily discouraged these days, and more easily bored. We think it’s the job of politics to both entertain us and jump at our command, and when it fails to immediately do both, we lose interest and wander away.

We’ll wave those bloody shirts from the World Trade Center towers until they shred at the seams, cursing the people who try to take away our democracy and our freedoms, and we’ll fuss to high heaven about that $32 third-Tuesday-in-the-month street-cleaning parking ticket, but we’ll toss those state and county election guides in the trash as soon as they come in the mail. Who’s got time for all of that?

Though local government affects us most immediately, we pay it the least attention. Sure, everybody knows Davis is the Governor and Bush is the President (or, at least, he’s acting like he is, which is the next best…or worst…thing to it). But stand in front of your laundromat or your local Safeway and ask everybody walking by for the names of last season’s Survivor finalists, the names of the starting five of the world champion Los Angeles Lakers, and the names of the eight members of Oakland’s City Council. Want to guess who’ll come out on top?

You can’t influence who you don’t know. Shoot, you can’t even complain to their office if you don’t know whose number you’re supposed to call.

Political office-holders…being sometimes stupid but rarely dumb…know that they have about a fifteen-second window to get our attention, tops, before we switch channels. So they spend millions of dollars on soundbites and media advisers, trying to come up with just the right symbols and code words that will stick in our minds, without bothering us with having to exercise too much thought. That’s why such words as "sideshows," "ebonics," and "the Raiders deal" resonate so well in Oakland politics.

It wasn’t always this way, this oversimplication of political debate.

When the nation was younger and a little closer to the days when the British taxed us without asking our opinion, we paid a bit more attention to the folks who wanted to govern us. When Abraham Lincoln debated Stephen A. Douglas over the issue of slavery in the Senate elections of 1858, 15,000 people came out to stand in the sun in Freeport, Illinois, to listen (which was a pretty good percentage, considering the town’s population was only 5,000). Millions more around the country followed the reprints of the seven debates in their local newspapers. The seven debates lasted three hours each. Nowadays, we look for the exits if an A’s game goes over two.

True, we don’t have to go to debates and community readings and read newspaper articles and campaign position papers if we don’t want to. Democracy gives us the right to drop out as much as it gives us the right to opt in.

Just don’t be surprised…or embarrassed…when the Governor ends up walking around all day with his hand out, like a San Pablo Avenue spare-changer. And don’t be so quick to lay blame.

Originally Published June 19, 2002 in URBANVIEW Newspaper, Oakland, CA