Bob Dornan brings out the worst in me

Shortly after I moved late last year, my new next-door neighbors - a particularly sweet elderly couple named Phil and Phyliss - wanted to see the newspaper I write for, but I was sheepish about it (they being older, white Orange Countians). I delayed, but they kept asking about it, so I dropped a stack of back issues of the Weekly at their door one day. The next time I saw Phil, the first words he spoke-before "hello" or "good morning"-were these: "Boy, that Bob Dornan sure is an asshole."I hadn't realized just how big an asshole until two weeks ago, when I had my first chance to take the measure of the man at close range. Dornan was a guest speaker at a U.S. government class at Rosary High, a Catholic girls school in Fullerton. His personal attacks on Tim Carpenter, the teacher who invited him-not to mention his well-documented but, until then, for me, still abstracted politics of hatred and lies-left me, well, in a seething rage. My hands shook, and my heart raced; a ring of acrid sweat formed under my collar. So, finally, I got up-nearly knocking over my metal folding chair-headed for the classroom door, and did something I wish I hadn't but am glad I did: unable to achieve Phil's articulate way of putting things, I seized Dornan's own classroom rhetoric, pointed an accusatory finger in his direction to punctuate my rancor, and said, quite clearly, "YOU'RE A SCUMBAG!"

My outburst was unprofessional, undignified. It spoke volumes about my lifelong struggle for self-control. For a while, I felt ashamed. But as I calmed down-a process of several hours-I read a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson that was printed on a flier advertising Carpenter's class: "When you have chosen your part, abide by it and try not to weakly reconcile yourself with the world. . . . Adhere to your own act and congratulate yourself if you have chosen to do something . . . and broken the monotony of a decorous age."

Well, I hadn't exactly chosen to blow my top. But I decided in the end that if more people reacted to Dornan's bullying, cowardly methods of intimidation with outrage, perhaps the world would be a better place. So-what the hell?-I congratulate myself.

I'm a music critic, not a news reporter, so when an editor asked that I attend Dornan's engagement at Rosary to provide "color" for the election reportage, I said I would, but without relish. I don't have the head for statistics or the stomach for ugliness required of a news reporter, and no bad concert in the world could prepare one for the nausea of coming face-to-face with Dornan. Mere quotes in a newspaper cannot do justice to the horror that is Dornan in the flesh. But I'll try.

Carpenter had asked Dornan-along with Democratic candidate for the 34th District seat in the state Senate, Joe Dunn, and representatives for political hopefuls from the Libertarian and Green parties-to speak in his class. The goal: to expose his students to every part of the political spectrum, from far Left to far Right. Dornan seemed determined to distract the students as others spoke-hailing his son Mark for whispered consultations, circling the room, pacing just outside the window, squirming in his seat, and making infantile faces whenever someone posed a point with which he took umbrage. Simple politeness is apparently not in Dornan's physical vernacular.

When it was his turn, Dornan immediately went on the attack, questioning Carpenter's credentials to teach in a Catholic school, and questioning the very validity of Carpenter's Catholicism-probably all due to the fact that Carpenter's politics are at odds with his own. Not only was Dornan vilifying the man who invited him to speak in the first place (sneezing in the canapes is bad form, Bob), but our congressional hopeful was also attempting to subvert the essential bond of trust between teacher and student by planting the seeds of religious guilt and doubt. It was a reprehensible display by any standard.

Next victim: Libertarians, whom an increasingly red-faced Dornan accused of championing the "Four Ps"-pot, pornography, prostitution and pregnancy-the latter of which, he implied in alliterative glee, inevitably leads to abortion when it occurs outside the confines of Catholic marriage. As the students giggled (nervously, I thought), one girl cried out, "STOP!" with what sounded like authentic, wounded innocence.

Then came a hailstorm of misrepresentations. I am told this is quintessential Dornan: land a volley of low blows as quickly and ferociously as you can; present your personal positions as not only fact but moral imperative; and move on to the next outrage before anyone has a chance to react to or question your disregard for fairness, accuracy, logic or common decency.

* A student wanted to know if Dornan eschews negative campaigning. "I have never initiated a negative mailer until someone came at me first," Dornan said. In fact, Dornan is infamous for negative campaigning-even in the absence of a campaign (and, geez, there he was at an all-girls Catholic school, calling President Bill Clinton a "lip-biting degenerate").

* "I lost by nine votes," Dornan said twice of his 1996 congressional loss to Loretta Sanchez. Actually, he lost by 984, and no one-not even his GOP cronies on Capitol Hill-has tried to manufacture so gross and obvious a revision of history.

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