Monday, August 7, 2017

Political Cowards: Alameda's Malia Vella

The internet should have ushered in a new era where everyone could more easily access their politicians. Direct democracy could flourish, and voters would become better-informed, freed from the shackles of BigCorp media.

Of course that's not what happened. Instead, most American politicians, beneficiaries of gerrymandering, avoid online debate whenever possible, reasoning there's no upside to engaging with voters who challenge the prevailing orthodoxy. Why not limit your exposure to puppies and t-shirts printed with #Resist instead? In fact, that's partly the approach union-supported politician Malia Vella has taken when called out on her divisive rhetoric. Her Twitter account proclaims herself "Alameda City Councilmember, Wellesley Woman, Teamster, Lawyer, Educator, CulĂ©, Art Lover, & Pragmatic Optimist." (Note: Wellesley is Hillary Clinton's alma mater.) Below is one of Malia's Facebook accounts. 

When I called out her prior mocking use of the hashtag #unionthugs on her personal FB page--which often replicates her official political page--she blocked me rather than engage. When I posted on her Alameda City Council page, she ignored it. Sadly, most American politicians today are mealy-mouthed risk-takers who would make the meekest accountant proud. Such behavior explains why so many Americans outside of California adore Trump. When your alternative is no discourse, any discourse is preferable.

Below are a few snapshots from the discussion--you'll see no admission that her prior conduct was wrong, or an acknowledgment that some voters' concerns about union coercion are legitimate

And that's when it got interesting. You see, Malia and are former law school classmates. We're trained to debate and use logic. My point is you cannot complain about Trump's language online while engaging in similar propaganda tactics yourself.  

Let's analyze Malia's logic. She's correct that not everyone associated with a particular incident is required to comment about the topic, but she still doesn't get it. A politician who has mocked people--including Trump, who's challenged labor unions' corruption--can't wash her hands clean when someone presents evidence that maybe, just maybe you shouldn't mock legitimate issues, especially when they concern the special interests who helped get you elected?

By not engaging publicly and by relying on carefully tailored images rather than practical issues to engage voters, politicians have created their own safe spaces. Meanwhile, in other countries, Cebu City's Tommy Osmena takes on all comers on Facebook and demonstrates no fear.

It is stunning that other countries have taken America's ideals of free speech and rigorous debate and utilized them better on American-owned social media than most American politicians. California in particular seems to attract a large share of political cowards because it's a one-party state. It wasn't always this way. 

When a questioner called out JFK's Catholic religion as potentially problematic, his supporters in the crowd jeered at the woman who questioned his loyalty. It was JFK himself who calmed the crowd, insisted on answering her question, and then delivered an inspiring response. Today, liberal American politicians claim to appreciate and even to idolize JFK while taking no risks whatsoever in political discourse. Meanwhile, voters worldwide have spoken. Except for the UK's Theresa May, they have demanded authenticity, even at the expense of civility and pragmatism. Admittedly, their choices seem atrocious when compared to the genteel politicians of yesterday. And yet, given the choices they've had, especially in California's political echo chamber, their approach makes sense: bravery over cowardice, bluntness over political correctness. Perhaps there's hope for the future after all. 

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