Meg Whitman, the former eBay CEO, is running for the Republican nomination for governor of California. Armed with a considerable personal fortune, she shot out of the starting blocks early, inundating the airwaves--both radio and television--with advertising. These spots are entirely content-free, total pablum, but that hardly makes them noteworthy; most campaign ads have lacked anything resembling substance at least since it was morning in America. These do, however, possess one bit of fatuousness that is uniquely their own.
Echoing every other outsider who has ever sought elective office, she extols her own non-political credentials, and then says, by way of explaining what evils she intends to remedy and in what way her lack of political experience is an asset rather than a liability, "The professional politicians have been fighting in Sacramento for years."
What's wrong with this picture? Where do the words "cognitive dissonance" come into play?
Well, the man she is hoping to replace, the current Republican governor, wasn't a professional politician either, was he? In fact, he used precisely the same pitch when he first sought the office. Far from being a pol, he was an actor and successful businessman before becoming governor. He had spent his entire adult life, he assured us, solving practical problems in a practical way, unconstrained by ideology or partisanship. He wasn't part of that venal Sacramento political culture, no sir; he was exactly what was needed to show those professional politicians a thing or two about how to do the people's business, yes sir. And his tenure is now widely derided as an abject failure. A view Meg Whitman's ad implicitly endorses.
She isn't, after all, aspiring to replace Pete Wilson or Jerry Brown or Gray Davis or some other battle-scarred political veteran; if that were the case, the ad might just possess some resonance. But she's aiming to take the reins from Arnold Schwarzenegger. In effect, her ad is telling us she can remedy the mess in Sacramento because she brings to the task the purity of her inexperience. The very claim made by the man who, as the ad itself appears to concede, presided over that self-same mess.
Perhaps a little re-tooling is in order.