The Meg Whitman Beauty Contest

In California, Proposition 19, the ballot initiative that would have legalized and taxed the recreational use of marijuana, lost by a few percentage points. As compared with the losing gubernatorial candidate, former Ebay CEO Meg Whitman, it did quite well.

While it garnered just a few more votes than she did, the cost per vote was substantially different. The Whitman campaign spent $160 million, most of it Whitman’s own money and earned 3,152,366 votes (approx. $50 a vote). It was the most expensive non-presidential campaign in U.S. history. Proposition 19, on the other hand, spent $3.5 million and earned 3,229,759 votes (approx $1 a vote).

Why, with such an incredibly expensive campaign, couldn’t Whitman convince Californians to vote for her? Some people say that for the cost of a good Photoshop job it could have been accomplished. There is a negativity in her smile that is almost imperceptible on a conscious level but which turns people off. Whether this was a depiction of her real personality or not is arguable, but it certainly held an implication for many voters.

However, on a more fundamental level, her campaign was one of negativity, rather than either offering solutions or hope towards solutions. In a stark contrast, her opponent, Jerry Brown campaigned on the exact opposite; the state is such a mess that if elected he would figure it out when he got into office. Meg offered nothing but criticism and threats to the average Californian. She offered up the “tough choices” that Californians had to face– reduction in all public services in order to preserve the tax cuts for the rich. Her horrible positioning was reminiscent of a bad substitute teacher, trying to impose her strictness in a pedantic way, as if she were talking to non-sentient beings.

So you ask, how could she have won the election? There is a simple, more cost-effective solution. Starting three years before the campaign was to end, she could have traveled California helping local communities with philanthropic grants; $100,000 for a youth center, $5000 for a new entertainment system in a hospice, $1,000,000 to get a computer program going in a poor neighborhood, matching grants for a sports center for at risk youth, childcare funding for single parents, keeping a state park open, a science grant for the best young scientists in California, youth theater and arts programs and camps– you get my point. Not all of these programs would be essential but all of them in some way would improve the quality of life for Californians. By the time the campaign came around, she would have been considered almost as saintly as Princess Diana. She would be known as much for her philanthropic and thoughtful, caring, love of California and Californians than for her stint at Ebay. Her faults would have been overlooked and, as she saw and met with the people that she helped, she might have developed more warmth, more love, more compassion and a better smile. She would have won the race. There would have been no argument that the other side could match.

As for Proposition 19, legalized marijuana, if the campaign had just had another quarter or 50 cents per voter it would have won. Just another quarter or fifty cents. Think of that, maybe if Meg Whitman had contributed just a couple million to the Prop 19 campaign she would have won with an overwhelming switch of marijuana voters to her side. Instead of spending $160 million, she could have done it with maybe $50 million plus $2 million for the marijuana bribe.

This article was first published by Edo Rosenthal on Open Salon.