Watching Susana Martinez’ gubernatorial campaign ads, I’ve been struck by how much they seem to be in sync with many of this summer’s big-budget flicks. I suppose both her politics and our taste in fantasy are reflections of our national mood in 2010. The formula, if this summer’s films are any indication, includes three ingredients. First, the central clash involves a titanic confrontation, a black-and-white struggle for control of the universe (or similarly vast arena) between the forces of Good and Evil—no in-between shadings included. Second, it relies on technology and magic to produce victory, mere human sweat and cunning being inadequate to the task. Finally, the conflict can only be resolved with violence and the utter destruction of the foe, no mercy given.Doesn’t that seem mirrored in the evolving Martinez television commercials—and in the Fox News talking points from which they are spawned?We are being persuaded that whatever battle we are in is much more than a simple conflict of national interest, practice or concern; it must be a pivotal element in a far vaster issue, the ultimate, the colossal struggle between Good (us, of course) and Evil (pick one: terrorists, socialists, drug lords, immigrants, etc.).We are not, as a nation, willing to patiently learn from past mistakes. We want clear, convincing and, especially, swift destruction of whatever we are told blocks our path. That’s the feeling the Martinez camp seems intent on capturing and taming. That’s the mood her ads and her positions seek to foster and capitalize on. Hers is an angry, punitive campaign designed to attract an angry, punitive electorate’s support.Western, gunslinging lawmen stand menacingly behind her in several commercials, a clear warning of what awaits her enemies if they cross her. Baby Brianna, who died as a result of hideous child abuse in Las Cruces in 2002, has been exhumed in another startlingly exploitive campaign commercial. And then there is the one in which a rape victim’s family voices its support for the prosecutor-turned-governor-candidate, apparently because she did precisely what her job as D.A. called for her to do, the job every D.A. in the state would have carried out.Her messages are clear: I am a clean-the-rascals-out, Sylvester Stallone-style candidate who will show no mercy; and I will not stop until every vestige of Bill Richardson’s administration has been eradicated—the positive (medical marijuana; driver’s licenses for immigrants) along with the negative (sweetheart contracts and pay-to-play campaign fundraising).So far it’s working. As ill-prepared for the task of chief executive as she may be, she is ahead in the polls. And her opponent, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, is caught in a classic dilemma: If she talks about her accomplishments of the last eight years it reminds voters of her association with Richardson, whose unpopularity hangs around her neck like an albatross.What scares me (and I think most New Mexicans will start to see this, too) about Martinez’ candidacy is that she seems unsure about just which office she’s seeking: special prosecutor, governor or enforcer general. She keeps talking about ending things, about turning Santa Fe on its head , about "defying" and "standing up.”Who’s her speechwriter? Rambo?She is the candidate from the cineplex teasers, all bluster and muscle. This is a campaign designed to be tough, not caring; to clean house, not build up; to shrink government until it’s small enough to fit in her back pocket.To glimpse where Martinez’ script would take us, check out “Tea Party in the Sonora” in the July issue of Harper’s . It’s a sobering picture of what happened in a neighboring state when all counterbalances to the rhetoric Martinez is peddling are removed. It is a picture of an Arizona in full self-implosion, and it shows where we could be if we toe the Martinez line of "cut, cut, cut."In Arizona, there was no holding back the right-wing forces of “end taxes, shrink government and watch prosperity flow like a river.” The notorious anti-immigrant bill legislators passed was far from the worst of their mischief. The GOP-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. Jan Brewer balanced Arizona’s budget by axing programs and services rather than raising taxes. Then they had to resort to desperate moves, such as putting “for sale” signs in front of state public buildings—including the state capitol building (no joke) and the Senate and House chambers . But it wasn’t enough. They’ve furloughed 15,000 state employees, closed schools, ended all adult education courses, slashed kindergarten and Medicaid programs. All of this provides a grim insight into what life in New Mexico under Martinez could quickly become.The net result of all those cuts, incidentally, has been to deepen, not lessen, the economic downturn for our neighbor to the west, which is now the poster child for how bad things can get when all governance is reduced to a mindless focus on cutting taxes. Tough talk about eliminating programs and ending services sounds great on the silver screen. It turns out to be a whole lot less appetizing as we watch the cataclysmic crash at the end of Arizona’s disaster epic.
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