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A Whitman War Room in Need of Decaf

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A Whitman War Room in Need of Decaf

I'm a Los Angeles voter who is registered decline-to-state, and thus was among the 180,000 people unlucky enough to receive the latest mailer from the Meg Whitman campaign. It's a nasty and nutty piece of work that seeks to compare the scandal in the small city of Bell, where the city manager was making $800,000 ($1.5 million if you count all benefits and payments), with Jerry Brown's tenure as mayor of Oakland

The Whitman allegation is that Brown's Oakland, where the city attorney was paid $180,000 and where a number of workers made more than $200,000 (many of them firefighters), is just like Bell. The comparison is ridiculous on its face. Perhaps that's too much for city workers to make, but it's not wildly out of line. Police and fire officials all over the state make unseemly amounts when overtime is thrown in. And a recent LA Times survey found the average pay of a city manager in Los Angeles County was more than $200,000.

This flier isn't an outlier. It's symptomatic of a Whitman war room operation that, at cost to its credibility, insists on making wildly -- and unnecessarily -- exaggerated claims about Brown. It's not clear why the war room behaves this way, because Brown's long record in public life provides so many targets for attack that the truth alone -- heck, simply quoting all the bizarre things Brown has said over the years -- should be more than enough to sow serious doubts about the Democratic nominee.

One wonders if the Whitman exaggerations aren't getting in the way of more fruitful, honest attacks. Let me take just one small example. The Whitman campaign, over and over, calls Brown a "Sacramento politician" by way of insult. He's undoubtedly a politician, but it's not at all clear that he's a Sacramento figure -- and that fact could be the basis of attack.

Brown has a long history of avoiding Sacramento, even when public office should have required him to spend more time there. Perhaps most famously, he ran for president twice during his first two terms as governor, shirking his official duties for such long stretches that the national media took notice. And even as attorney general, he has spent relatively little time in Sacramento, preferring to manage from a satellite office closer to his home in Oakland.

Whitman's campaign could -- and should -- raise the question of whether Brown has spent enough time in Sacramento, and whether he's neglected official duties in past jobs because he was too busy running for his next job. Given Brown's record, voters should be concerned about whether he will be devoted to the job if he wins. But it's hard to make that case when the Whitman campaign is repeating, mindlessly, that he's a Sacramento politician.

So how about a new sign at camp Whitman, right from the New Testament (John 8:32)? "And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."

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