Scenes From the 2010 Truman Dinner


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Midway through Congressman Barney Frank‘s keynote address, a younger man brought him a glass of water.  Barney explained to the audience of 400 Orange County Democrats, “That’s my partner Jimmy.  We’ll try hard not to defile any of your marriages while we’re out here in California!”

As the laughter and applause died down, Barney continued his excellent stemwinder of a speech, detailing how the two parties have grown further and further apart as the Republicans have got more and more extreme and anti-government beginning with Reagan, until even now the sainted Reagan would be considered too liberal for today’s GOP.  Democrats believe firmly in the importance of the private sector for producing wealth, but that it’s essential for that to be contained and guided by the government – the vital “government/private partnership.” (There is no socialist party here.)  But Republicans have moved so far right that they believe in no government role at all;  they have lost all their moderates, believe in nothing but obstruction, and can’t really be worked with at this point; and it’s essential we don’t allow Congress to fall back into their destructive hands.

A Democratic acquaintance of mine, standing by the bar, turned and sneered, “How disgusting that this corrupt Wall Street creature is the best we could get here.  He’s gonna have a Goldman Sachs job waiting for him when he retires.”

That was like a dash of cold water.  I’d always thought of Barney as one of the more progressive Congressmen, at least out of the older, more experienced and effective ones.  It seemed he tried hard to get through as effective a financial reform bill as he could, given all the sold-out Blue Dog Dems, Republican obstruction, and dysfunctional Senate he had to deal with. Maybe this cat was reacting to Frank’s recent derivatives regulation, which contains too many loopholes, and which he says he will “sharpen.”

Barney told me a little earlier that he still doesn’t appreciate Stephen Colbert’s humor (though he loves Jon Stewart) because Stephen ridicules “good and bad” politicians equally, adding to voter cynicism.  I respectfully disagreed, saying that’s been an honest satirist’s job description for decades, and that a bad politician should be demolished by satire while a good one should only be slightly humanized.  He didn’t buy that, so I took my leave with “I’m still your biggest fan.”  Take that, cynical progressive guy at the bar!

Is there hope for humanity?

By seemingly pure coincidence, at the same moment, issues of the New York Times were rolling off the presses with a somewhat Panglossian frontpage story declaring “Orange County is No Longer Nixon Country!“  Adam Nagourney’s two main points were the OC’s steadily shrinking Republican registration (43%, lowest since 1940) and our burgeoning numbers of minorities and immigrants;  he could have also mentioned the inexorable rise in Democratic registration for many years now.  Gustavo responded bitterly here, basically that the OC is just as racist and anti-Latino as ever and that the OC Dem leadership can’t find its ass with both hands.  Meanwhile, Calitics’ Robert agrees with the Times that the OC is getting bluer, but adds that one of the main reasons is that the younger generation isn’t such a bunch of rightwing jackasses.

Bao Nguyen

One thing you couldn’t help but notice at the Truman Dinner was how many young, good-looking, energetic Democrats we’ve got now who are of Asian, Middle Eastern, and Indian descent: Offhand, civil rights activist and Garden Grove school board candidate Bao Nguyen, Fullerton school board candidate Aaruni Thakur, Irvine City Council candidate Shiva Farivar, Capo school board challenger [and nonpartisan independent] Saam Alikhani, Anaheim City Council candidate Bill Dalati, at least half the Young Democrats – this is our Party’s dark future.  I mean, GOOD dark future.

Yet, our Democrats in Sacramento seem paralyzed with fear by the bad economy and Meg/Carly’s limitlessly funded mendacity, so they retreat into behaving like Republicans-Lite.  Speaker John Perez (seated by Barney) expressed to me his frustration with our own Jose Solorio helping to kill a bill that would have offered reformed youth offenders a way out of life sentences, saving taxpayers untold millions, just in order not to offend the boundlessly vengeful “victims rights” lobby.  And our own Lou Correa has been killing important and sensible bills as well, most recently one requiring health insurers to get permission from the Insurance Commissioner for major rate hikes, thus throwing his constituents under the bus for another big special interest.  If this is how they deal with fear of electoral defeat – by becoming just like Republicans… well, that’s just NOT VERY INSPIRING to those of us whom they need to campaign for them.  I do hope they win re-election, but our OC delegation is dying for a strong dose of Phu and Melissa.

Disgruntled Republicans in the house!

The people I was most glad to see there were longtime Republican Jeff Teller and his contingent from the Orange County Marketplace (swap meet) which is severely endangered by the Fairgrounds Swindle.  “What are YOU guys doing here?  You’re not Democrats!”  Jeff laughed and replied, “We’re here to support the people who supported US.”  Now and then I would glance over at that table and notice Jeff appreciatively taking in Barney’s moderate/liberal/capitalist message.  I think we may have a new convert or two, and a pretty well-off and clever one.

It’s true that the Fairgrounds Swindle was engineered from start to the present by Republicans, and Orange County voters concerned about the loss of our public treasure need to remember, that’s just Republicans doing what most of them believe in:  privatizing public property to shrink the public sector, to the enrichment of themselves and their supporters, and done as secretly and underhandedly as possible.  And I’ll be in charge of making sure everyone remembers that.  (Big exceptions/props to Jim Silva and John Moorlach.)

Jeff seems especially bitter at Costa Mesa Mayor / Assembly candidate Allan Mansoor, whom he respectfully turned down last year for a donation to avoid conflicts of interest, and who went on to be a driving force moving the city’s support from Jeff’s American Fairgrounds to the secretive, avaricious Facilities Management West.  He asked me if Allan’s opponent Phu Nguyen was there and if I would introduce them;  I was happy to oblige!  If that relationship flourishes, I’ll be proud of being in the right place at the right time.

Other Highlights and Lowlights

Loretta Sanchez accepted an environmental award for Barbara Boxer, and gave one to “legendary trial lawyer heavyweight” Wylie Aitken, who was invaluable in helping her beat Bob Dornan the first time around.  I wouldn’t know, that’s before my time.  Evidently he’s coming “back out of retirement” to help her again this year as she faces an unexpectedly strong challenge from the devious Van Tran and his “independent” Latina puppet Ceci Iglesias.

It was great to see my pal Benny Diaz, the irrepressible prince of LULAC, get the Social Justice award.  And the big award of the night went to longtime activist and schoolboard trustee John Hanna.  Now me and Hanna have argued a lot over the years over “social issues” like “In God We Trust”, marijuana legalization, (and – I think? – gay marriage.)  He always cautioned the Party and its candidates to take the cautious conservative positions on these, or to avoid them, and I always kind of  suspected him of  disguising his own Catholic priggishness as concern for the Party’s fate.  But all that was forgotten in the rousing power of his closing, vehemently pro-labor speech.

He also explained how Van Tran has been sending out walkers for both himself and Ceci, and how it’s essential for every Democrat in the OC to pledge at least one day of walking for Loretta and Lou.  He concluded:

“1) Keep this a big tent party. Don’t become ideologically exclusive, be practical. 2) Be gentle with our friends. Don’t alienate our allies. 3) Let’s act more and talk less. We are all working for various different candidates this year, but it is my obligation, and yours, to walk at least one day for Loretta and Lou.

The Liberal OC’s Chris Prevatt was seated up at the front next to Nick Berardino the whole time, with a sour look on his face.  Our friendship’s been on hold since the infamous lawsuit, but still I thought I’d nod hello as I passed by.  Turns out he’s furious, FURIOUS at me for the humorous piece I posted last week, “Last Chance to Bash the Liberal OC.”  Jesus, what thin-skinned punks these characters are.  Even if they WEREN’T suing us, it’s just too damn irresistible to tease them.  They’re like your whiny little brother.

It’s funny how many Democrats tell me, despite all the controversies and chismes, “Reading the Orange Juice is my guilty pleasure.” And, as always, people kept drawing me aside to tell me stories they thought I should write about.  Some of them were too convoluted and I didn’t jot anything down, so e-mail me.  Maybe I was still too buzzed from the CCIR Potluck that afternoon.  The last thing I remember is dancing with Melissa Fox while the girl trio in military drag sang “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy.”

What a wild night.  But then, I don’t belong to an organized party…


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist in Orange County. Performs regularly with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem, and at regular concerts at the Huntington Beach Central Library.