Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Whitman vs. Santillan as Hill vs. Thomas

She might have well have told us, during the summer of 2009, that the St. Louis Rams would go to the Super Bowl.

Meg Whitman, who spent roughly $160 million to become governor of California, came up empty yesterday. She did have a few things to overcome, including not having voted in 28 years, not having registered to vote until 2002, and giving Jerry Brown the opportunity to run this scathing ad (below). Or this one (way below). But then she pulled the political equivalent of picking the Rams. Faced with the accusation that she had kept in her employ Mexican immigrant Nicky Diaz Santillan while aware that she was in the U.S.A. illegally, Whitman responded in part by predicting
And you know what? On November 3rd, no one's going to care about Nicky Diaz. But the law is the law, and we live in the rule of law. It's important.

But Whitman did not comprehend the power of pictures- and of emotion.

That is the image (photo by Reuters by way of daylife.com), seen repeatedly by millions of Californians, of a poor, young woman crying. A poor, young woman in the country illegally, but a poor, young, hard-working woman nonetheless. And Whitman went on to urge that she be deported.

That is for ICE and/or the courts to decide. But the voters of California no doubt were moved- justifiably or otherwise- by the emotion seemingly expressed by Nicky Diaz.

We've been this way before. Anita Hill vs. Clarence Thomas. A reluctant witness (for her own reasons) testifying quietly, rationally, unemotionally. And another individual whose opportunity for a lifetime appointment to a supremely powerful institution was being jeopardized by a former employee. Thomas had to do something and do it with feeling, and so he testifed before the Judiciary Committee:

This is a circus. It's a national disgrace. And from my standpoint as a black American, as far as I'm concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the US Senate rather than hung from a tree.

Thomas was mad- or at least seemingly so, which is all that mattered. Because if he were mad, millions of Americans reasoned, surely he was being wronged. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, we know- just short of a smoking gun- that Thomas not only severely minimized actual lynchings of black Americans, but was also lying, lying, lying.

But Thomas' self-righteous expression of anger was accomplished with feeling- much as Santillan displayed. And that, people believed- nay, felt- proved authenticity.

This is not to argue that Nicky Diaz Santillan reprised the Clarence Thomas Show. Nor is she as qualified to be Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court as was Thomas, although it is a close call. But Thomas bolstered his case with the viewing public with a display of rage and Diaz benefitted by an expression of anguished despair, though she may have been sincere.

While yesterday the far-right Republican Party and its further-right Tea Party wing, capitalizing on the emotions of the American people, made major electoral strides, the GOP's gubernatorial candidate in the nation's largest state was victimized in part by the triumph of feeling over reason. In this one, isolated, case, turnabout is, indeed, fair play.

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