This week, the campaign of Congressman Howard Berman sent out an email with the startling news that its regular attack email against his opponent, Congressman Brad Sherman, would come out a day late.
Oh, yes, this is election reform at work, people. California abolished party primaries, and instituted a "top two", two-round system of elections that has given us the spectacle of Berman running against Sherman in two straight races -- one back in June (won by Sherman) and the next in November.
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These two men are so similar in views that both campaigns are seeking to distinguish them via personal boasting and personal attacks. And as the campaign goes on, the personal back-and-forth is drawing more and more people into the campaign.
The latest to take the leap into the muck was Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts.
He had previously endorsed his colleague Berman over his colleague Sherman, quietly. But Frank declared in a Tuesday conference call that, upon hearing a Sherman boast about his role in opposing and shaping the TARP program that was used to bail out financial institutions, he had to come forward -- and launch a blistering personal attack on his other colleague Sherman.
The gist of that attack was that Sherman is a showboating, irresponsible, less-than-collegial colleague who is uninterested in substance. Berman, by contrast, is a serious, responsible, sober colleague. Showhorse vs. Workhorse.
Sherman's campaign predictably responded by reiterating that the Congressman had opposed TARP and shaped the policy -- an argument that essentially portrays Sherman as an outsider challenging the establishment, and Berman as an insider.
Who is right in this exchange? There's truth in the criticism of both. But the real answer to the question of who is right is: who cares? No matter who wins, the San Fernando Valley will be represented by a moderate Democrat. One might bring a little more policymaking heft, the other more of a bully pulpit.
It's hard to imagine anyone being at all scared about the victory or defeat of either man. The only real danger of damage is from a campaign that's taking away time and money from... well, things that matter.
One of these guys could do his party a favor by dropping out. Indeed, the first to quit might end up more popular than the person who wins the seat -- for providing the public service of ending this silliness.
Can we really take another three months of this sort of election?
Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).