Politics Is Personal

“It’s all personal, every bit of business. … They call it business. OK. But it’s personal as hell. You know where I learned that from? The Don. My old man. The Godfather.”Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather

One can replace the word “business” with “politics” in that quote. I learned that lesson from former state Sen. John Vasconcellos, who takes his politics very personal. Every vote, every issue, every candidate he endorses—it’s all a reflection of his own belief system.

As we begin what former San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery refers to as “silly season,” it is important to remind ourselves why we participate in this process. Most people who run for public office are good people. They have consciously decided they want to serve their community. There is no doubt a measure of ego is involved, as all are quick to explain why they are the “best” person for the job.

However, the campaign process imposes a challenge to all candidates. You must explain not only why you are the best candidate, but also include messaging that indicates why your opponents are not right for the job. There are no “perfect” people running for public office, and the public has an insatiable appetite for learning those imperfections.

The biggest problem, though, is there is no requirement for truth in politics, and almost anybody can be made to look bad when information is not provided in context.

For instance, a former candidate for high public office had a drunk for his main military advisor. The candidate’s wife spent public funds on frivolous shopping sprees. He claimed to be a lawyer but never attended law school. In fact, he had no high school diploma or college degree. He had previously lost most of his political races and his experience consisted of one term in Congress. Who would vote for such a candidate?

Turns out a fair number of people. And I think we can agree that Abraham Lincoln wasn’t too shabby a President.

Which brings us to the caveat emptor—or buyer beware—part of politics. Negative mailers and ads that voters receive may be hazardous to our political health. If it sounds too ugly to be true, it is probably false. But a close inspection may reveal some facts to be true. Politics is a participatory sport, and voters can’t stay on the sidelines. They must do their due diligence.

It is not whether the information is positive or negative that should make a difference; it is whether the information is true.

In the past, the media has been a good arbiter of such material. But given the number of races and limited resources of current journalists, we are often left without a third party that can effectively judge the content of political material. Voters, themselves, must take the next step.

Finally, it would not be right to finish this column without acknowledging that our firm actively participates in developing political material for our clients. We utilize the standard of truth in the material we disseminate. We are pleased to justify any assertions we make in advertisements for our clients. We actually welcome that opportunity if requested from credible individuals.

Not everyone can say this, but we advocate for the clients we believe are best for the position they seek. The people who end up making decisions in our community do matter.  That’s why we have chosen this profession—because it makes a difference and politics is personal.

Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.


  1. From “credible sources”? Rich, the only credible source anyone needs is the FPPC filings and all the running off at the mouth you do in the public forum to see how you play “fair” in the arena. If you believe any of those filings that I received from the county offices and posted on my pages are inaccurate or any of the sources I provided are inaccurate or false, please, I am more than happy to hear your side of this story — http://caseythomas.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/dirty-hit-pieces/ Of course, if you don’t have anything to say in regards to those sources… we take that for what it’s worth as well.

    You really shouldn’t be talking about other people’s egos when you’re own has been out of control.

    And this quote, “[All candidates] must explain not only why you are the best candidate…” There you go. We’re still waiting to hear from your candidate why she believes she’s the best candidate. I’m sure there is something she feels has done for the community and to develop the Sheriff’s office in the past 4 years to make her the best candidate. We would love to hear her verbalize those accomplishments somewhere. Maybe the three debates she’s been invited too?

    And as for my credibility, I’m certainly no less credible than your friends over at yet a 4th blog that shall remain unnamed here.

  2. Rich,

    The media has NEVER been a 3rd party neutral when they report on anything, nor do I think they are a reliable source of information. Any media outlet that endorses candidates like they do can NOT be trusted to give out FACTUAL information on a candidate.

    Secondly, a paid political consultant, like a defense attorney, is paid to protect and serve their client. How on earth can you justify sending out inflammatory mailers/misleading press statements to ensure victory for your client is done with any kind of focus on integrity and truth? Personal agendas/beliefs/loyalty to a party/money yes, truth, no.

    The only place I agree with you is that voters really need to do their homework. Given how much money is being spent to bash their opponents all in the name of winning, misleading candidate’s statements, refusals to debate the issues publicly, refusal to allow ALL candidates running for office the same coverage/opportunity to be heard/invitations to public meet and greets, rigged candidate forums, and a million other obstacles to contend with, we truly do have our work cut out for us.

    And by the way, calling Mark Klass uninformed publicly was truly an unwarranted low blow just because he endorsed your client’s opponent. He made it clear that he was unhappy with your client’s performance and that is why he endorsed Mr. Jensen. I think you need to respect his opinion rather than try to humiliate him.

    Further, for supporters of your client to insinuate that a victims rights group endorsed your client’s opponent because they received a donation from him was also bottom of the barrel.

    Sheriff Smith has a kind heart and has done a lot of kind things too, and I don’t see anyone belittling her for that.

    I find it very sad that these things have been done, and I hope you take this constructive criticism to heart Rich because a candidate’s performance and the issues are all we “credible” voters care about.

  3. And Rich…maybe you feel what is happening is personal and directed personally at you and the Sheriff, given your title and your chosen image and quote. It’s not. It’s embedded in my belief that law enforcement holds a particular place in society that demands a unique balance of ingredients that just are not present under your candidate’s leadership. What the sheriff does, not who the sheriff is, is the driving force behind our actions. I’ve tried to steer clear for the most part of personal issues that don’t affect the integrity of her office, as have most the people around me. Yes, we’ve surely indulged, but usually we have also provided a substantial amount of information on a subject from a variety of sources. On the other hand, you and your group have done little more than call the deputies keystone cops, losers, haters and a few other choice names for nothing more than seeking a better leader in law enforcement that they feel will fix many of the problems the office is seeing and re-establish community ties. You’ve attacked Marc Klaas and Harriet Salarno as uninformed. You’ve tried to find ways to publicly demean the idea of debate to get your favorite candidates out of tight spots where people are demanding to hear their opinions and plans; yet here in this latest blog you demand that candidates explain why they are the best choice. Just not your candidates?

    Or perhaps I misread and the title is simply a warning that you are going to take this to a personal level. If that’s the case, what a shame, but not entirely unexpected if I were to be completely honest.

    As I’ve said in my blog before, I’m sure on a personal level with her friends, the Sheriff is a lovely enough person. As an administrator, leader and a law enforcement official she is, at best, mediocre. We can’t all be everything and it’s time for the sheriff to realize that the health of the SO is more important than her goal of breaking the record for office holder with a 5th term. I’m sorry, yes, my priorities are different.

    Honestly, I don’t know if SJI is giving you a forum to fight for your candidate(s) or just enough rope to hang yourself with. Either way, I am beginning to appreciate them allowing you (and me by default through their comments section) this forum.

  4. RE: “It is not whether the information is positive or negative that should make a difference; it is whether the information is true.” Agreed, but it is also whether it’s the whole truth or a distortion.

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