Chris Daly's Twinkie Defense

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The media's ongoing claim that Supervisor Chris Daly's petulant rant du jour has dragged City politics to new lows in civility would be easy to understand -- in a city where a former supervisor didn't shoot the mayor and a fellow supe to death just 29 years ago.

Daly's innuendo about Mayor Gavin Newsom's penchant for the powder was silly and typically self-defeating. And yet it warrants mentioning that Daly's behavior has also received far more media attention than the mayor's proposals to cut millions of dollars from programs aiding the City's most needy denizens.

Message from Newsom to Daly: Thanks, pal. Keep it up. Perhaps Daly needs a "Twinkie Defense" of his own to explain away his counterproductive belligerence.

The Chroncle's headline about political talk turning "nasty and brutish" is a Hobbesian reference; the 17th-century Royalist English philosopher feared a world without absolute central authority, in which self-interested men would wage "a war of every man against every man." Think Iraq with pageboy haircuts. Daly may be nasty, brutish and short, but the Board of Supervisors is still relatively free of blood feuds.

Perhaps the most annoying aspect of the media-driven cocaine fiasco is the feigned myopia about politics' longstanding maliciousness. Ignoring Dan White emptying his six-gun -- twice -- into George Moscone and Harvey Milk is just the most glaring oversight:

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(one) Three days after Massachusetts Rep. Charles Sumner criticized pro-slavery politicians in an 1856 speech, he was attacked and beaten by a cane-wielding Rep. Preston Smith Brooks of South Carolina. It was the worst beating on the floor of Congress until 1948, when young Rep. Richard Nixon broke the first rule of Fight Committee and talked about Fight Committee.

(two) Lyndon Johnson never accused Gerald Ford of using cocaine, but he did state that the former Michigan star "played too much football without a helmet." Ford also could have used a helmet when disembarking from airplanes, it turned out. Perhaps cocaine was involved: It would have explained Ford's super-human pain tolerance.

(three) In 1800, Thomas Jefferson's camp claimed presidential rival John Adams hoped to marry off his son to the daughter of the British monarch, creating an Anglo-American dynasty. Adams' camp responded with good, old-fashioned name-calling, referring to the author of the Declaration of Independence as "the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father."

No one brought up Sally Hemmings. Or cocaine, for that matter. It was legal back then, after all.

--Joe Eskenazi

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