Back in New Haven for the year, and ready to bring some light and some truth to the Yale Corporation. Two and a half days until the strike deadline, and there’s little in the way of signs of movement on Yale’s end. Tomorrow morning at 10:30 will be a press conference calling on Yale to settle or submit to binding arbitration to avert a strike; it’ll be headlined by Connecticut’s own Joe Lieberman. I’ve never wasted many kind words on Joe Lieberman – I think his political record overall demonstrates a lack of courage masked in the rhetoric of bipartisanship and a disturbing conservatism masquerading as “moral clarity.” One of my first posts on this site was a somewhat rambling but earnest criticism of Joe as he prepared to announce his candidacy for President of the United States. One of hte few virtues of a (happily, quite unlikely) Lieberman primary win would be a tremendous organizing spike for the Green party; it would, however, represent the final kiss and death for the Democratic party’s organizing among its base (read: everyone to the left of the DLC), which – as much as some posts here might suggest otherwise – is not something I want to see. All of that said, it should be noted to Lieberman’s credit that while he pursues an agenda in Congress generally deaf to the interests of the American people – including those of us in the Connecticut – he’s frequently lended his symbolic support to much more progressive initiatives here on the local level. Damning by faint praise? Yes (also damning by harsh but deserved criticism). But Lieberman’s support for David Lee’s Yale Corporation candidacy, ECCO’s sustainable housing work, and organized labor in New Haven – while deeply inadequate on the scale of the damage done by his work on the national level – should be noted among the few progessive moves for which he can be credited. Not coincidentally, these symbolic moves at home cost him very little with his neoconservative/ neoliberal sponsors and supporters on the national level.

The Times on the scene of the election building on the deadline to file to run in the CA recall:

There was the 100-year-old woman from Long Beach who was sponsored by the 99-cent store chain; the busty pornographic film star; the cross-dresser in pink; the soul food restaurateur; the angry car salesman; the techno geek; the student too young for whiskers; and the structural engineer worried about earthquakes.

It’s strange how many anti-populist conservatives have had a convenient change of heart just in time to herald the recall as the epitomy of the democratic process. This election is, in many ways, the strongest case for instant run-off voting. For those who don’t know, instant run-off voting essentially allows each voter to rank their preferences among several candidates. In the first round, every voter’s vote is counted towards his/her first choice. The candidate receiving the lowest votes is eliminated, and in the second round, everyone who voted for him/her has their vote counted for their second choice. The process continues, eliminating one candidate each round and counting each voter’s vote for their preferred candidate of those remaining each round, until only two candidates remain, and the one of the two who’s preferred by the majority of the voters wins.

Let’s say, for example, that the eight candidates above are the only ones on the ballot, and my preferences are:

1st: Cross-dresser in pink
2nd: Soul food restaurateur
3rd: 100-year-old woman from Long Beach
4th: Student too young for whiskers
5th: Busty pornographic film star
6th: Structural engineer worried about earthquakes
7th: Techno geek
8th: Angry car salesman

In the first round, my vote is counted towards the cross-dresser, and the angry car salesman (apologies to any angry car salesmen who are reading this site…), who was the first preference of the fewest voters, is eliminated. In the second and third rounds, my vote is still counted for the cross-dresser, and the student too young for whiskers and the 100 year-old woman are eliminated for being the favorite (out of the remaining candidates) of the fewest voters in the second and third rounds respectively. In the fourth round, the votes that had been going to the angry car salesman (in the 1st round), the student too young for whiskers (in the 2nd), and/or the 100 year-old woman (in the 3rd), spread mostly between the structural engineer, the techno geek, and the busty pornographic film star, and the soul food restaurateur has a strong base because of his outstanding corn bread, but the cross-dresser, who automatically receives my vote as long as he’s in the race, is the preference of the fewest voters and is eliminated. In the fifth round, my vote goes automatically to the soul food restaurateur because he was my second choice, and the techno geek receives the fewest votes and is eliminated. The sixth round thus pits the soul food restaurateur, the busty pornographic film star, and the structural engineer against each other. Most of the voters whose votes had been going to the techno geek had marked the porn star as their next choice (thought it would be the structural engineer, didn’t you?), and the soul food restaurateur has a strong enough base to come in second, eliminating the structural engineer, who hopefully will continue to worry about earthquakes in some not-gubernatorial capacity. In the last round, thus, every voter’s vote is counted either towards the restaurateur or towards the porn star. Someone who rated the restaurateur 7th and the porn star 6th, for example, is now automatically voting for the porn star. In this final round, while my vote goes to the restaurateur – an unreconstructed liberal Democrat whose politics are my favorite second only to the more radical cross-dresser – more people are drawn to the, well, platform of the busty pornographic film star, and she emerges the winner of the gubernatorial race.

The advantages of this system are clear. It demonstrates the actual level of support for various candidates by allowing everyone to rank them based purely on how much they’d like to see them in office. It eliminates the fear of hurting your second – (or maybe eleventh-) choice candidate’s chances by supporting your first-choice. Unlike the California recall, instant run-off voting is a sustainable, viable measure which would increase the democracy of our republic – and, not coincidentally, rock the casbah that is the two-party system. That’s why it’s been part of the platform of the Green party for years, and is part of the platform of its candidate in the recall, Peter Camoje, who I would likely vote for first in an instant run-off election, followed by Arianna Huffington, then likely Cruz Bustamante. That’s why you don’t hear a lot about it from the Democrats – who came up with progressive reforms like the recall election and now are suing to to have it stopped – or the Republicans – who become populists overnight when it means embarassing the Democrats.

But finding a politician willing to talk about fundamental reform of America’s education system beyond the president’s anemic Education Act is harder than locating a flat chest — or a real one — at the Playboy mansion.
– Arianna Huffington, April 4, 2002

Van Jones, quoted in Marc Cooper’s column in today’s LA Weekly, sets forth succinctly and resonantly the bind in which California progressives find themselves:

“We can’t afford another three years of these state budgets,” says the 35-year-old Yale Law School graduate and director of the Oakland-based Ella Baker Human Rights Center. “In my town we’ve got classrooms of 30 kids who have to share six books. We’ve got classrooms without chalk. We’ve got a state where prison spending has risen 650 percent in 20 years. We’ve got a prison guards union that, in the midst of this budget crisis, is getting a 7 and a half percent pay raise. California has become the biggest incarcerator in the world. From our point of view this recall election is a survival struggle. We’re disgusted and appalled by Gray Davis, and we’re afraid of the Republicans. We need another choice.”

That third choice, Van Jones – and a more sceptical Marc Cooper as well – see personified in Republican-Congressman’s-Trendy-and-Witty-Wife turned Trendy-and-Witty-Leftist-Populist-Divorcee Arianna Huffington. As David Brock describes her in Blinded by the Right:

The leading social light in the new GOP power structure in Washington was Arianna Huffington…The indefagitable Huffington, whose failure to comply with the laws governing household help probably cost her husband the election, returned to Washington determined to reinvent herself as the godmother of the Gingrich Revolution. Since her debut as the first woman member of the Cambridge Union student debating society, the witty, articulate Greek-born beauty had set out, with brio, to conquer her world. In the 1970s, she took London by storm, writing a famous antifeminist manifesto at the height of the women’s movement, and carrying on a high-profile affair with the British intellectual Bernard Levin. Moving on to New York in the Reagan years, she hosted the likes of Brooke Astor and Barbara Walters at glittering dinner parties…

With Arianna honing the campaign’s conservative message and even standing in for Michael in candidate debates, Huffington confounded political experts and won the seat. THe only discernible theme through it all was Arianna’s boundless ambition. “The Sir Edmund Hillary of all social climbers,” as Los Angeles magazine put it. Arianna drew the attention of Newt Gingrich during Michael’s first congressional term, when she published a book called The Fourth Instinct, in which she argued that the welfare state should be replaced by reviving the concept of tithing, or charitable giving…

Nearly ten years after the period Brock is describing, Cooper writes:

For anyone who knew Arianna in her past life as a “compassionate conservative,” the meeting of that informal committee at her sprawling Brentwood home last Sunday afternoon would have seemed unimaginable. Van Jones, environmentalists, leaders of the anti-war movement and some of the most effective advocates against the drug war crowded onto Arianna’s sofas and divans to hear her come just short of a formal announcement. The several dozen activists included an ex-president of LULAC (the leading Latino civil rights organization); Marge Tabankin, who once ran the Hollywood Women’s Political Committee; Salon.com founder and editor David Talbot; producer and liberal activist Lynda Obst; Lara Bergthold, from Norman Lear’s operation; the radical educator and former Crossroads School president Paul Cummins; former RTD official and onetime mayoral candidate Nick Patsaouras; Jerry Brown’s former campaign manager and current Code Pink organizer Jodie Evans; and civil rights attorney Connie Rice.

Huffington, who has another week at most to decide whether to run on the recall ballot but says she’s leaning towards it, has several factors running against her. As Cooper puts it:

And as someone who had publicly encouraged Arianna to consider the run, let me be among the first to openly acknowledge the scope of the challenges her candidacy would face, beyond that mountain of $10 million or so. In an extraordinarily compressed campaign window between today and the October 7 vote, Arianna needs to craft an understandable and coherent program that offers serious alternatives to both Republicans and Democrats yet retains mainstream appeal; she must convince voters that, if elected, she has the executive oomph both to manage the current crisis and to effect real policy reform in Sacramento. And she must be effective in blunting what will be the inevitable attempts by the media and other candidates to marginalize and trivialize her independent run.

What Huffington does have, however, is the freedom as a non-Democrat to aggressively promote herself and run against the ugly record of the New Democrat Davis, the potential as an independant to mobilize progressive (or merely exasperated) Democrats with a suspicion of organized third parties, and the combination of wit and charisma responsible for her quick rise first on the right and then on the left. It’s hard not to feel some affinity for a woman who would do televised election-night debate as a Republican in pajamas sharing a bed with Al Franken, and fund commercials as an independant suggesting that, contrary to the government line, it’s your oil habit and not your drug habit that’s funding international terrorism.

The founders of http://www.runariannarun.com, including Van Jones, argue Huffington has a strong shot under three conditions:

1) The Democrats offer up only Davis, and refuse to list any credible, marquee Democrat as one of his potential replacements;
(2) The GOP fields three or four major candidates at the same time;
(3) Liberals and progressives field only one, big-name populist like Arianna as a potential replacement for Davis.

It may be, as has been widely speculated, that the Democrats will draft someone other than Davis at the last minute for the ballot, figuring that the embarrassment of breaking ranks is less than the potential embarrassment of losing the governorship of the largest – and one of the leftest – state in the Union. But pronouncements like Terry McAuliffe’s recent one seem to make such a move more and more costly for them. Meanwhile the chance of the GOP uniting behind one candidate seems infeasible if not impossible – Issa’s spent much too much of his car alarm fortune (plus whatever he made off of those cars he broke into before that) on recruiting petitioners from around to country not to see his name on the ballot; Riordan and Schwarzenagger seem adamant that one or the other will run in an appeal to the libertarians that are convinced Davis is a big spender but would be scared off by the socially conservative Issa; and Bill Simon hasn’t yet figured out how to dig up. Finally, Camejo’s suggestion that he and the Green Party would drop out of the race and throw their support behind Huffington eliminates a crucial competitor.

Where does this leave us? A Huffington candidacy would be, if nothing else, an interesting prospect which would facilitate the articulation of a real progressive agenda and leftist vision during a period in which a conservative Democrat is somewhat successfully being portrayed as a left-wing radical – and could potentially garner competitive support. Meanwhile, check out her writing on SUVS, the drug war, economic justice, and democracy.

Speaking of prospects (the twisted, sensational, voyeuristic kind specifically), while I suppose it’s good news that Michael Huffington has gone back on his earlier suggestion that he too might enter the race, if a deal were cut where the Governor’s race were a one-on-one between Michael and Arianna, with nightly televised debates, I might be convinced to rethink my stance on the merits of the recall…

Picture it:

Michael: Your view of America is as cold as your lovemaking.
Arianna: Your economic plan is as potent as, well –
Michael: You know, for someone who never had time for her children, you sure put a lot of time into bastardizing the political discourse.
Arianna: Michael, let’s not bring your mother into this.