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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Dunning: Populist or Social Conservative or Perhaps Both?

For those who read the Sacramento Bee article on Tuesday morning on Davis Enterprise Columnist Bob Dunning, it was an interesting read.

The article posits the almost existential question of who and what is Bob Dunning, and the answer is that he seems to be almost conflicted.
"So which is he? Closet conservative or closet liberal? The answer is: both and neither. In other words, nuance and ambiguity win out. Even Dunning says he's conflicted when asked about his world view and political leanings. (For the record: Yolo County's voter registration lists him as a Democrat.)"
It continues:
"To some, especially in Davis, he is considered too conservative to represent the progressive citizenry of the college town many dub "The People's Republic." These critics see him as a defender of the status quo and an apologist for pro-growth politicians and developers.

But among some Catholics, he is considered too liberal. Though Dunning is ardently pro-life, condemns homosexuality as a sin and boasts that he's "to the right of George W. Bush on the stem-cell issue," some of his other views have raised eyebrows among church conservatives. So, too, does the fact that he's been married three times -- though one short-lived marriage was annulled."
One of the interesting things, I learned from this article since I do not listen to Bob Dunning's radio show is how conservative he is on a lot of social issues. And perhaps, as the article suggests, he is not uniformly so. Nevertheless, some of the views here are rather shocking.
Except for a denunciation of right-wing Catholic League leader Bill Donohue, there was scant evidence of blatantly liberal Catholicism during several recent weeks of Dunning's show on Sirius:

* On homosexuality: "It's a sin. The Catholic Church teaches that the act is a sin. But don't violate anti-discrimination laws (against gays)."

* On the Good Friday prayer controversy: "Jews are upset because we're praying for their conversion, asking God to remove the veil from their hearts and overcome their blindness. ... If I was Jewish, I don't know if I'd make a big deal out of that."

* On pharmacists being forced to sell the morning-after pill: "People who are pro-choice are no-choice. They don't care about your conscience."
Recall that this is a columnist that accused this blog of being anti-Catholic. And yet he shows remarkable insensitivity toward Jews and their beliefs.

Back on January 12, 2007, Bob Dunning wrote in his Davis Enterprise column:
"Twice on this blog I've seen truly ugly references to Catholicism as it pertains to the Above-Pictured Columnist made by anonymous cowards … if this ugliness had involved any other faith, it would be condemned by this town's alleged civil rights activists as "hate speech," but it's apparently open season on Catholics … yes indeed, real life hate-mongers right here in the Most Relevant City in America …"
I was asked about this charge from the reporter when he interviewed me for the Bob Dunning story--he could not find a reference to Bob Dunning and Catholicism. In fact, if you do a search on Dunning and Catholic, you will find only my response to his January 12th column. There is a mild criticism of Dunning not living up to Catholic mores in some of the comments, but that is certainly not anti-Catholic nor is it something that emanated from my keyboard.

I did not realize it at the time of this interview, but apparently the very fact that I was personally willing to respond and criticize Dunning made me unique.
"Three other local critics of Dunning declined interview requests, saying they feared retribution in Dunning's column."
Anyone who has been on the receiving end of a Bob Dunning treatment can understand why that is the case.
Often, Dunning puts aside his breezy, snarky style and strikes back. In two January columns, he savagely dismissed the Vanguard bloggers, calling their analyses of his work "actionable libel and defamation" and writing, "In my book, this blog has become a rag, which makes it a blag."
One of the reasons that I began this blog last year was to create a vehicle by which to respond to Bob Dunning. The problem was that if Dunning attacked you, he twists your words. I have seen his columns where he attacks someone or completely distorts their email pulling key lines completely out of context to imply that they are saying something that they had no intention of saying. I have been shown original emails that bear no resemblance to his columns.

To respond to him, you get a 350-word letter to the editor and he can respond with five columns a week if he so chooses. At least with the blog, there is an opportunity to respond fully and to get the facts out there.

For his part,
"Dunning says people often mistake his humorous asides for attacks."
I do not buy this at all. I think it may be closer to the truth to suggest that Dunning dresses up his attacks in humorous asides. But they are attacks nonetheless.
"Among their examples, Greenwald and fellow critics point to what they perceive as Dunning's "personal attacks" against progressive councilman Lamar Heystek as well as his unwavering support of the Davis Police Department during a 2006 dispute about the adjudication of a controversial misdemeanor hit-and-run case involving a Muslim teen. (Some activists called it a case of racial profiling.)"
For example, in December, Bob Dunning through his confederate Noreen Mazelis unleashed an attack on Councilmember Lamar Heystek suggesting that he had not sufficiently suffered to be able to sit on a panel to discuss "struggle."
STRUGGLING WITH LAMAR....writes my friend Noreen: "Per Sunday's Enterprise ('Briefly,' Page A3) Lamar Heystek will be on a panel with three other privileged men to discuss 'struggle.'", nobody knows the trouble he's seen, overcoming his college education and teaching position at UC Davis to become one of the youngest City Council members in Davis city history...struggle?....Lamar?.....heck, he's not old enough to have even struggled with a razor....
Reading this passage, you can see that it certainly is wrapped in heavy sarcasm with attempts at humorous interludes, but at its core, it is an attack and in fact as we devoted a large amount of space last fall to suggest--a wholly unfounded one at that.

This was of course not the first time that Dunning attacked Councilmember Heystek. During last year's election, the Councilmember found himself under attack for being anti-law enforcement.

Dunning suggested first that Mr. Heystek had slipped in the city council race based on his position on police oversight and Officer Ly's conduct in the Buzayan case.
"He is now running third, maybe fourth, in a race where only two seats are available and chances are fading that he can make up the deficit between now and Election Day …"
Moreover, after Mr. Heystek released a statement of support for the police, Dunning derided him:
"Great stuff, Lamar, but it's too little, too late..."
Dunning then proceeded to attack his association to a certain person that I happen to married to.

Is that a funny aside or a personal attack on someone? I suggest it is both.

As I am quoted in the Sacramento Bee:
"Sometimes he uses his column as a bludgeon instead of a way to enlighten the community on issues."
Of course, not everyone is critical of Mr. Dunning.

The article cites two people in strong support. One an individual named Richard Bruce:
"He's an institution. He's a populist who's been relatively friendly to economic growth so that people can afford to live here."
A populist? It is indeed difficult to pigeon-hole the guy, but I would say he is more often a "shill" for the political establishment than a populist. He's probably more often friendly to economic growth, but even here you have to be more careful and nuanced. Dunning was basically against Measure X. I am uncertain how much he cares about people being able to afford to live here, but perhaps someone can cite examples to the contrary.

The biggest cheerleader for Dunning is the one person who ought to be in the position of authority over him and that is Davis Enterprise Editor and Assistant Publisher Debbie Davis. Davis plays cheerleader for Dunning:
"What I totally admire about Bob is that he has the facts to back up his opinion."
Really, perhaps Debbie Davis can give us the facts to back up Dunning's opinion on Heystek and struggle? Sorry to keep using that as an example, but it is so blatantly inaccurate.

In most ways, the views and ideas presented in the Sacramento Bee article are unsurprising to those who have followed Dunning. I have been in the past accused of not appreciating the fact that Dunning takes his positions on a case-by-case basis. I can appreciate that. I can see how Dunning's radio views would anger those both on the left and the Catholic Church.

Yet at the end of the day, I view him as I do Bill O'Reilly. Bill O'Reilly claimed when he was a bit newer to Fox News, that he was neither conservative nor liberal. And what you would see is about 80% of the time he would be on the right and then 20% of the time he would say just enough that the right hated so that it would be difficult to pigeon-hole him and so that he could anger just enough conservatives and get them to complain, so that he could say, see, I told you, I'm in the middle. But anyone who views O'Reilly on a regular basis knows he is a strong conservative on most of the important issues and that ideologically he relates better to that side of the aisle.

That is mainly how I see Bob Dunning. I wonder how he would go over if more people realized how far to the right he is on social issues. I suspect he may be more of a typical old-time Catholic Democrat on some of the economic issues, but I have not seen enough of him to make that determination.

I can appreciate at times Dunning's humor, but I remain a strong critic of his precisely because of the way that he wields that humor and the sheer force of five columns a week.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting