You may not know it, being out here on the "other coast," but we actually have a presidential election coming up. Although we are one of the biggest states, one of the biggest economies, and one of the biggest piles of electoral college votes, we get absolutely no love, do we now?
Giants and 49ers fans are nodding knowingly to themselves right about now, because they are all-too familiar with this "East Coast bias." The Giants could hit 20 home runs in one game while Melky Cabrera spent his time in left field figuring out cold fusion and the lead on ESPN that night would still be, "Derek Jeter was seen tonight doing something, somewhere, with someone."
I can live with that reality when it comes to sports, but I have to admit I recently have become just the slightest bit peeved, especially when it comes to the Bay Area and political news. We have become what my friend John Durham terms "an ATM state." Politicians fly in, grab as much money as they can, and flee before the sun comes up like a pack of political vampires.
This dynamic was seen recently with drive by shootings from both the president and Mitt Romney, so I am by no means singling out one side or the other. As much as the Democrats tried to get all worked up about Willlard's 50,000 dollar a plate dinner the other night, Obama has not exactly been shy about picking our pockets recently either for almost $40,000 a pop. And now the news comes out that once you add all these ducats together with the gobs of money spewing out from the various PACs, we could be looking at the first billion dollar political race. Yes folks, that's not a typo.
Now, I would not mind the above if anyone was actually listening to us, but that doesn't seem to be happening. I have harped on this before, but this is the state that used to drive the political discourse, and the Bay Area was ground zero for much of that. Now California in general seems to be viewed as a caricature, one big pile of hippy dippy, Hollywood-loving, tree-hugging, locavores and Communists whose only political agenda is legalizing pot.
Now part of this is true. Our Republicans would make Tea Party followers break out in hives, and our Democrats would make southern democrats faint. We ain't like the rest of the country, and that used to be a good thing. Now it's cause for dismissal or assumed irrelevance. And with each check from the ATM, we remove ourselves from the conversation even further.
Months ago, during one of Obama's withdrawals (sorry, I meant to say "trips"), local democratic backer Susie Tompkins Buell made the bold move of publically not donating. At the time I have to admit I scratched my head, but now it's starting to make sense. It's not just enough to be backers, we have to be drivers, because I truly believe that one of the reasons this country is becoming so fractured is we are no longer making sure our particular West Coast sensibility stays relevant. We have always looked a little differently at problems, we arrive at solutions that others wouldn't think of, and as much as we rant locally about progressives versus conservatives, in reality our polar extremes are far closer than in other parts of the country.
Do I have an answer to all this? As self-serving as it sounds, I think our Bay Area DNA needs to get back into the political Petri dish. Maybe some of that frontier mentality that came west with us needs to head back east. Maybe the east needs to start realizing the country doesn't stop at the Rockies. Maybe not just in the Bay Area, but all along the West Coast, we have something unique that needs to be fed back into the conversation.
We have always been innovators, I think almost because we had to be. We built our own little ecosystem out here for entrepreneurs because the idea of "start-up capital" made East Coast bankers go white in the face. We started the conversations about Vietnam, equality (not "gay marriage," it's just plain equality), and the environment. No one understood what we did half the time, so not surprisingly we invented our own media to explain it, from Rolling Stone magazine to Wired.
And now they come for our money instead of our inspiration. The aggravating part is we pay for their behavior since California is a "donor state," paying more into the federal system than we receive. And get ready folks, because they are coming for your money too. A billion dollars doesn't just fall off trees anymore, so this presidential race will be in your face more than ever before. Just ask yourself what you want in return. Ask what we want in return. Because complaining about the state of the country only gets you so far. Susie Tompkins Buell made a small statement for all of us. Now it's time for all of us to turn it into a large statement, saying we are the West Coast, we are California, we are San Francisco. Ignore us at your peril.