Roseville, Calif. — Meg Whitman and I have a few things in common. We were both born in the 1950s and raised in bedroom communities of New York City. Whitman went to Princeton and Harvard; I also went to college. Whitman’s father’s name was Hendricks Hallett Whitman; my dad’s name started with an H, too (he went by Herb, although his birth certificate said Irving).
Of course, Meg and I also have some differences. Obviously, on my father’s New York City schoolteacher salary, I did not frequent the same elite country clubs or summer camps as Whitman. Come to think of it, I didn’t frequent any country clubs or summer camps, unless you count our town’s recreation program called “Summer Playground.”
The main difference between Meg Whitman and me is one of class. She was part of the Eastern elite, I was from a second generation immigrant family. If I were to prick my finger, my blood would be red, Meg’s royal blue. Whitman even married a man with three last names, Griffith Rutherford Harsh, a symbol in certain New York circles that one summered in the Hamptons and did not shop at Sears.
So, maybe Meg Whitman and I do not really have that much in common, but I still wanted so much to like her when I first heard she was running for governor. Now that Meg and I are living in the same state again, I wanted to embrace her as a smart, capable female attempting to break another glass ceiling-the first female governor of California. Like Whitman’s, my formative decades were the 1960s and ’70s, when feminism was not yet a dirty word. I have always followed the rule that if I’m ambivalent in a political race, I vote for the female candidate to give our team a catch-up point.
Meg Whitman as Leona Helmsley
So as much as I still want to love (or at least vote for) Meg Whitman, I don’t think I will be able to ink in that little oval next to her name this November. She reminds me too much of the arrogant hotelier Leona Helmsley, who reportedly told her housekeeper, “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” Her sweetheart deals with Goldman Sachs, in which Whitman and her husband were able to buy up shares of hot new stocks ahead of the general public in exchange for Whitman throwing eBay bond business to Goldman Sachs, has the same skunky aroma of the old boy’s network that plundered our nation’s economy and then rewarded its members with multi-million dollar bonus checks. That practice, called “spinning,” is now illegal, although Whitman claims she did not see anything wrong with it at the time. (Why would she? All her friends were doing it, too.)
Given her personal net worth of over a billion dollars, Whitman’s proposal to slash the jobs of 40,000 state workers, real-life people, with spouses and children, who would be thrown out of work during one of California’s bleakest job markets, seems especially cold and heartless. Sure, computers and low-paid workers in India and China could do some of the jobs that people who live in and work for the state of California are currently doing, but neither of these will contribute to the state’s economy as state workers do now by spending their salaries at local businesses (trickle down doesn’t only apply to the rich). I know quite a few people who work for the state of California, and contrary to the caricature of state workers chatting on Facebook all day while sipping lattes, many state workers have had to work even harder these past few years (often on their own time, thanks to furlough Fridays), to keep up with an increasing work load.
Because I believe the media and public need to have access to politicians running for public office, I have also found Whitman’s strategy of avoiding reporters and the public to be arrogant and aloof. The image of Meg Whitman flying around in her private jet and pitching her packaged political sound bites from the safety of a TV studio is not that of a candidate whom I can get excited about or even vote for.
Ironically, my brother, who is a very successful businessman in Southern California and has personally met Whitman several times, is a huge Whitman fan. He recently Facebooked me that he likes her because “she will be beholden to no one and is super smart and tough.”
While I agree that being smart and tough is good, as is not being beholden to special interests, there is something alarming about a rich person thinking she can buy the job of governor (or as someone commented on Huffington Post, “It appears that Ms. Whitman has been looking for the “Buy It Now!” icon for the California governorship”).
Meg Whitman as Barbara Bush
I suspect many other middle- and working-class Californians like me will also have trouble connecting with Whitman or believing that she cares about the quality of their lives. Even her matronly-hairdo-and-pearls persona conjures up a California version of former first lady Barbara Bush, who infamously said about the escapees from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, “What I’m hearing which is sort of scary is that they all want to stay in Texas. Everybody is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway so this (chuckle) — this is working very well for them.” (Did Barbara Bush really think people warehoused in the Houston Astrodome relished their new digs?)
Meg Whitman as the Tin Man
With almost five months until Election Day, there is still enough time for Whitman to melt her inner ice queen and channel the concerns and struggles of real-life California wives, mothers and workers-women who do not shop at Nieman Marcus or Nordies.
And while I love the fact that Meg Whitman is super smart intellectually, being a brainiac is not enough to win the hearts and votes of most Californians. Like the heart-challenged Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz, Meg Whitman may lack the emotional intelligence to demonstrate she cares about the lives of real everyday working people.