Total Recall

From the criminally incompetent to the plain criminal, the GOP has it all in the October recall election.

Let's start with the incompetent. Two of the Republicans' unburied corpses—embarrassing failure Bill Simon (who lost to Gray Davis just a few months ago in a race Bob Hope could win today) and former Congressman Michael Huffington (who lost his 1994 U.S. Senate race after spending $27.5 million of his own fortune—more than twice that spent by the winner, Democrat Dianne Feinstein). They'll slug it out over their natural demographic: strangely inept sons of rich men.

Equally incompetent, but easily distinguishable from those two—thanks to his cheap suits and successful political career—state Senator Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) is cleverly positioning himself as the candidate for those who have no idea how government works. With the state facing a $38 billion deficit, McClintock vows to do away with the only new source of revenue in the budget by cutting the vehicle license fee by two-thirds “within five minutes of taking the oath of office,” before eliminating it altogether.

Faced with such worthy opponents, Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Vista) has decided to pursue what can only be called the Hruska Strategy. While defending President Nixon's 1970 nomination of G. Harrold Carswell to the Supreme Court, Senator Roman Hruska (R-Nebraska) conceded Carswell's mediocrity, but argued that mediocre people “are entitled to a little representation” on the high court.

In a July 23 profile in The New York Times, Issa follows this Republican strategy. “Mr. Issa admits he is not gifted,” the profile notes with typical Timesian understatement. “I have an I.Q. of 100 plus a little bit,” Issa claims.

Of course, Issa also tells the Times he is dyslexic, so it is possible he got it backwards and his I.Q. is a bit under 100, which would explain a lot. But let's be generous and accept his claim: Darrell Issa is of mediocre intelligence, and willing to alert the national media. But beneath his admission, perhaps Issa suspects that mere mediocrity isn't good enough. After all, voters know Sacramento isn't short on mediocrity, and Hruska's ingenious defense wasn't enough to save Carswell. So, Issa—in his canny but mediocre way—also uses the Times profile to reach out to another demographic: ex-criminals with a passion for good government.

Adopting a boys-will-be-boys tone, Issa suggests a criminal past is a positive thing: “What would you rather have? A cardboard-cutout who never made a mistake when he was young only to become governor and then carry on like a juvenile delinquent?”

Extensive research has failed to turn up a single incident of a California governor tagging or engaging in any other typical juvenile delinquent behavior while in office. And certainly no sitting governor could match Issa's record of being arrested for felonies in three different states.

While the Times reporter is interested in the details of certain aspects of Issa's life, such as grooming—”his hair combed and parted with tonic, not hair spray as preferred by political veterans”—he shows little interest in the details of Issa's felonious past. Although the profile gets the caliber of the gun Issa was arrested in 1972 for carrying right, the reporter doesn't challenge Issa's characterization of it as a misdemeanor offense. In fact, Issa was originally charged with a felony, but was allowed to avoid trial by pleading guilty to a misdemeanor, in one of those plea bargains despised by law-and-order Republicans.

To his credit, Issa doesn't try to use his admittedly limited intellect as an excuse for his 1972 arrest in Michigan. Instead, he blames his brother Billy, whom he also blames for his 1972 car theft arrest in Ohio and his 1980 car theft arrest in California. Issa tells the Timesit was Billy's gun and Billy's fault, and even gets Billy to confirm this. “Don't blame my brother for my sins,” Billy tells the Times.

But the arresting officer's report contradicts the brothers' story, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported on July 17th: “According to the report, [Issa] acknowledged the gun was his, saying he needed it to protect himself and his car. He also claimed that under Ohio law it was legal for him to carry it because he had a 'justifiable reason.'” That last part is why retired officer Don Payne, who made the arrest, still remembers Issa. “It was a B.S. story, and [my partner and I] were laughing about it later.” he told the Chronicle, explaining, “Back then even an off-duty police officer in Ohio couldn't carry a [concealed] gun, so there was no way he could carry a gun like that.”

As for why Issa would tell The New York Times a story that falls apart as soon as you fact-check it, it's hard to say. Limited intelligence? Perhaps. Or perhaps he was reaching out to yet another demographic: the Jayson Blair vote.

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