There is a good article in yesterday's Los Angeles Times by Catherine Saillant and Dan Weikel about Kevin James (not the actor), the sole Republican running for mayor in Los Angeles. It's of most interest to those in L.A., of course, though it holds value for a lot of general political discussion in the ether today.
At issue in the piece is how the populist, upbeat campaign that James is running is at odds with his words and actions as a conservative radio talk show host.
For instance, they note that he is now chastising his opponents for being slow to act on climate change. Which sounds lovely in a progressive way. However, his pre-mayoral statements slammed the concept. Among other things, he wrote an article on the conservative website Townhall.com that ridiculed Democrats as "global warming wimps" who use the it for political gain. (Something he himself clearly is doing now, to a "T".) And he trashed the phrase "carbon footprint" as nothing more than "code for limitless government intrusion into every detail of your life."
The article also explains that on his conservative radio show, James "consistently opposed Democratic proposals for a 'path to citizenship." Obviously, this is a position that might play really poorly with the huge Latino population in the city. Now that he's running for mayor of that city, however, candidate James says he supports some form of naturalization, and also supports the California version of the Dream Act. Quite a change.
The question here -- and not just in Los Angeles, but politics in general -- is how much of these turnarounds are actual growth and changes in belief, and how much is pandering to the public to hide your true views? It's a situation we have begun to see a lot in recent years where conservative candidates spout angry, bombastic slams to appeal to their far right base and the Tea Party corporation supporters, ginning up hatred and fear to get their party's nomination, but when then moving to face the general electorate, they suddenly see the light. This phenomenon was most prominently seen in the presidential campaign when a Mitt Romney top adviser went on TV to famously explain that now that the primaries were over and Mr. Romney had won the Republican nomination, he could get a do-over and start from scratch, like an "Etch-a-Sketch." And the result was that Mitt Romney seemed to reverse all of his most controversial right-wing positions, to the point where you didn't know what he stood for.
The thing is, with such candidates like this and in particular Kevin James here, there is the blurring of did they evolve their views, or are they trying to flim-flam the public. And if the latter, was Mr. James lying to his radio audience just to get listeners, or is he lying now to the electorate just to get votes?
I don't know if Mr. James or similar candidates have had Great Revelatory Conversions. But my guideline for such things as this are twofold: 1) how many of their positions have they suddenly changed, and 2) more importantly, how in depth do they explain the reasoning that caused their change, so that we can not only believe the change, but feel comfortable that they won't revert in the next cycle and every cycle, when it's convenient.
At the moment, Kevin James doesn't appear to be doing a great job on either account. But him aside, it's always good to stay wary. It's a hypocritical world out there. Be careful...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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