Later, Lee and I visit the “student union” of Oaksterdam U., a dimly lit room where people are watching pro football on a big-screen TV while inhaling pot from smokeless vaporizers. It’s as boring and benign as any midtown pub. As our interview winds down, Lee becomes increasingly distracted. During lunch, he’s so engrossed in a copy of Motor Trend magazine that he stops responding to my questions.
David Boies, the Democratic New York lawyer of Bush v. Gore fame, is barefoot and wearing swim shorts, a baseball cap pulled over his wet hair. We’re in an oceanside bungalow in Newport Beach, where Boies is at a family reunion. The Pacific is shimmering through the open door behind him. Golden-skinned people glide by on Rollerblades.
Two weeks before, Boies and his unlikely legal partner, Republican Ted Olson, George W. Bush’s lawyer in 2000, won a major victory when a district court judge declared Prop 8, the anti-gay-marriage ballot initiative, unconstitutional. Opponents promptly appealed, sending the suit brought by two gay couples to the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court, but keeping marriage between gays and lesbians illegal until the case is resolved. As it stands, the law has engendered an untenable legal purgatory unlike anything else in America.
“That’s one of the really strange things about California right now,” Boies marvels. “You have about 18,000 gay and lesbian couples who are married. And the court of California said those marriages are valid. Now their neighbors can’t get married … In fact, if the gay couple that’s married get divorced, they can’t remarry. They can’t even remarry themselves. It makes no sense.”
His opponents, fighting on behalf of Prop 8, are faced with a crucial decision: whether to fight the case all the way to the Supreme Court, where Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was born and raised in Sacramento and whose rulings were cited favorably in the district court’s decision, could be decisive in making it federal law, thereby making gay marriage legal in not just California but, eventually, the whole country.
Gay marriage is about civil rights, of course, but in California it’s also about the state’s identity as a launchpad for progress, the mass migration to the future. And if California can’t light the way to new realms of personal liberty, it undermines an article of faith woven into the Dream. Maybe for that reason, the opposition is actually divided on whether California or the nation is the ultimate prize. California led the way in banning restrictions on blacks, Jews, and Catholics owning property in America. It took interracial marriage to the State Supreme Court and won.
“I do feel a connection to that lineage,” Boies says. “I think it’s appropriate that California should lead the way. It’s had a progressive tradition for 100 years.”
Below a 30-foot-wide chandelier in a fabulously ostentatious neo-Baroque Hyatt Hotel in downtown San Diego, Meg Whitman is standing at a glass podium. It’s the California Republican Party convention.
“You know, I was doing a little fund-raising in New York not too long ago,” Whitman says after her theme song, “and you know who’s as excited about this election as we are?
“People in New York,” she answers.
“Because they have suffered the financial reforms that are going to crimp our ability to raise capital, and they want California to turn the corner. They want us to elect a Republican governor, they want us to set an example for the United States of America!”
“Whoo!” cry the Republicans, as they carve into their chicken dinners.
You can practically feel Whitman’s campaign staff wince, given her ties to Goldman Sachs, which allowed her to make $1.78 million in questionable IPO profits while she was a board member. That became a line of attack for her primary opponent, Steve Poizner. But for the moment, it fits into Whitman’s assault on Jerry Brown as the union shill who will kill big business in California and further decimate the economy. To set up her arrival onstage, the audience is shown an anti-Brown film in which Indian sitar music and swirling, psychedelic colors are edited over a TV clip of Brown saying, “Government regulation is a response to the inhumanity, the juggernaut quality to these alien institutions called corporations.”
The Republican Party in California is considered something of a joke, its voter registrations dwindling for the last decade. Whitman is here to throw some red meat to the faithful and beat a fast retreat, before anybody asks her about her immigration views, which are left of Arizona’s, and therefore far left of California’s right wing. Schwarzenegger is nowhere mentioned, which is curious since Whitman’s rhetoric is crafted by the same people who engineered Schwarzenegger’s 2003 win, a group of Republican consultants associated with former governor Pete Wilson, as well as media-savvy Republican strategist Mike Murphy, who recently sold a script to HBO about political consultants.