There was something scurrilous about the Fox News Network suing comedian Al Franken for using the phrase, "fair and balanced" as a subtitle of his book, "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them." Last week, when a federal judge tossed the Fox News lawsuit out of court as a joke, it marked a welcome moment in the generally sorry and dour state of media manipulation.
Some things rolled together mix poorly. In California, we now have recall fever. There is something scurrilous, too, about this California recall effort, a kind of political takeover mentality that seems part and parcel of the fundamentalist ideological bent of the Republican constituency these days. These boys (and girls) are really macho types. They want it, and they want it now.
In California, the same ideological forces that tried to squash Franken unleashed the effort to overturn the state's last gubernatorial election - a kind of legal, if highly disruptive, coup d'etat. Poor California, a state already reeling from two severe economic problems - an energy free-for-all born of unintelligent deregulation and a crippling self-imposed limit on its property tax base - now must cope with a political circus hilarious even by California standards. Truly, partisan politics are going haywire. California proves it. This cheap use of an obscure, century old law to wreak political chaos on a whole state, just to topple a liberal in mid-term, is not constructive politics.
Franken is a hoot. He got under the skin of the right wing and the Fox lawsuit gave his book a huge splash of publicity. Franken is hero of the moment to many who are tired of the humorless, angry, self-righteous, arrogant approach to politics and certainly to much of news and entertainment commentary that now occupies a huge amount of air time and print space. "This is an easy case," ruled the judge, "totally without merit."
Now comes more crazy nastiness from California, with Cruz Bustamante, the Latino lieutenant governor, emerging as front-runner. As Chris Mathews called it, Bustamante is Danny DeVito to Arnold in this movie. Which means, Bustamante is cool. If Davis is gray and Arnold is all blue, Bustamante is red. While Arnold's announcement had great bombast, the Bustamante campaign had immediate substance and vigor.
What good fortune, then, that Bustamante is a genuine friend of Indians. He was born a poor Latino (Chicano), worked in agriculture, cut his teeth on the social movements of the 1970s and climbed the political tree to the second highest post in California. Consistently, Bustamante has supported the California tribes and the tribes support him. While some tribes contribute to Republican candidates, and all tribes know the need to engage all political powers, tribal hearts (and wallets) in California belong largely to Bustamante, who has received some $500,000 so far from tribes.
It is entirely proper and a welcome moment that a Latino with roots in the indigenous vein of the old Californios, a friend to Indian tribes at a crucial moment in their development, would be the one to scramble the plans of the right-wing ideologues. Bustamante, the grandson of Mexican immigrants to the Central Valley, would be California's first Latino governor since 1875. His candidacy has the Latino community riveted. Latino grass-roots organizations are mounting energetic voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives for election day. Combine the Latino energy with the emerging Native American financial clout, and a great political partnership appears in the offing.
A growing Latino population with voting power coupled to the emerging financial clout and outreach power of American Indian nations may be a historical first and a great new lesson for Indian country and for Latino America. There is a great deal of latent indigenous culture and identity among the Latino populations of the United States. A respectful and long-term political alliance of mutual benefit between American Indian tribes and the several large and small Latino populations of indigenous ancestry could yield important benefits for both.
Among the other candidates, as Indian Country Today reporter James May has reported recently, Arianna Huffington will study and address Indian issues, while actor and pop-cultural icon turned Republican candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger has not responded to inquiries. Of note, Schwarzenegger's campaign chairman is former Gov. Pete Wilson, who as governor was a staunch opponent of Indian gaming and a supporter of the much-opposed Pala compact. State Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, is reportedly just "simply cordial" with the tribes.
Bustamante, on the other hand, defended tribal sovereignty as a state assemblyman during the controversial Pala Compact dispute. His personal profile of early poverty and agricultural work as a youth and self-sufficient career path (even today, his sole source of income is his $130,000 a year salary) contrasts to several multi-millionaires among the California gubernatorial candidates.
In 2000, just prior to the Democratic National Convention, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante turned down the Pacific Union to preside instead over a ceremony honoring tribal sovereignty. Bustamante handed out framed certificates that enumerated historical and political features of American Indian tribal sovereignty. According to observers, the event marked the first time in 150 years that a constitutional officer from the state of California officially recognized the relationship between the state and the governments of California's 108 federally recognized tribes
Morongo Band of Mission Indians former Chairwoman Mary Ann Martin Andreas has praised Bustamante for his long-term commitment to protecting tribal sovereignty, first as a California assemblyman and speaker and as lieutenant governor. A tribal political action committee for Bustamante is being formed.
Republican Party operatives embedded in the media, led by Rush Limbaugh, lost no time in mounting attacks on Bustamante's tribal connections. "The largest political contributor of dollars to campaigns in California isn't labor, trial lawyers, the environmentalist wackos or Hollywood pseudo-intellectuals. No, Native American tribes are California's biggest players," blasted Limbaugh in an Aug. 25 piece titled, "Tribes Lavish Cruz With Bustawampum." Fox's own volatile Republican operative and talking head, Bill "Shut Up" O'Reilly, of course, is already blasting at Indian gaming and yelling at Franken every chance he gets.
Expect more of it. Multi-millionaire Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, who financed the recall effort ($1.73 million) is focusing on "taking down" Bustamante as the greatest threat to the takeover plan.
The Fox corporation called comedian Al Franken "intoxicated or deranged" and "increasingly unfunny" for poking fun at the right wing. Imagine what they'll think of Latinos and Indians together if they succeed in upending their end-run at the governorship. Unfunny, indeed.
From an Indian perspective the intelligent strategic vote in California is NO to the recall and YES to Bustamante.