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Forest Baker’s 15 minutes of fame?

I received the following missive today from Forest Baker, the Republican nominee to challenge Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, in the 13th Congressional District. Is he feeling bitter? Sanguine? Gloomy? Jocular? I’m not entirely sure:

Forest BakerWe were told several months ago by one of the senior political journalists here in the Bay Area that “Forest Baker might be the best politician in America since Ronald Reagan… but he won’t get elected as a Republican in Congressional District 13, so it really doesn’t matter.”

In the artist, writer and fashion designer communities there is always an urge to discover the next emerging star. It is part of the American myth that anyone might aspire to such greatness. Andy Warhol made great fun of such possibilities by declaring that eventually everyone would become world famous for exactly 15 minutes. Other deep thinkers are somewhat more cynical.

During the 1960’s it became popular to imagine that anyone who could stretch a canvas and hold a paint-brush could declare himself to be an artist and he would indeed be creating art…no matter how untrained he was. His work was classified as naïve and if he was astoundingly charming then he might get a show in New York. Sometimes he was a one-trick pony with one thing that was pretty interesting. More often he was nice to look at and enjoyable to talk to. The art press would fawn over him for one season and then he would disappear. This went on for a number of years but we don’t do that so much with painters today.

Similarly, professional writers who make their living (with a day job) as journalists have been hard put upon when their newspapers and magazines have suffered from competition with the new social media and the bloggers. Happily, blogging is in decline as readers have grown exhausted with the total rubbish these angry fringe dwellers insinuate into the national conversation. And we yearn for the intelligent prose of the professional writers once more.

Emerging fashion designers are in the worst spot of all. They occupy a position in the industrial foodchain where they create margin (profit) opportunities for the factories managers who manufacture their goods and for the boutique owners who take their stuff on consignment. However, there is no place for them to actually make any money themselves. Therefore, they literally always fail in two years and are replaced by the next crop of aspiring young design school graduates bankrolled by Daddy.

The fashion magazine editors understand how this business works, yet they are tasked with validating their glowing reviews of those established brands that purchase $75,000 full page ads… by talking excitedly about fresh designers every month. But it does not matter one little bit: who. So they “discover” someone attractive and charming, usually fresh out of one of the important design schools and sometimes the American myth engages so that a total amateur with no formal training but who is making handbags out of duct-tape and safety-pins will be featured on the pages of Lucky Magazine just as if she had some idea of what she was doing. Because it just doesn’t matter. A young designer could be the next Coco Chanel. But if she is living in a loft in Williamsburg and she is not working for Gucci then her stuff is never going to get into Barneys and it just doesn’t matter. She might just as well be working in duct-tape instead of leather as far as the people at Conde Nast are concerned.

So here we are in Bay Area politics… dominated by the Democrats and with Republican politicians operating out in the radical fringe. Your business at the newspaper is to entertain readers. Charming candidates, validating the myth that anyone here in America can do anything at all, if he wants it bad enough and in spite of the fact that he only just recently thought about politics and otherwise never prepared himself to do any of the actual work. In the year of the Tea Party that story has traction and entertainment value. People want to believe that populist politicians… however painfully naïve… are competitive. It’s not true, of course, but it doesn’t really matter if Yves Saint Laurent is going to win on November 2nd anyway.

The 13th Congressional District – which includes Alameda, Fremont, Hayward, Newark, San Leandro and Union City as well as the unincorporated San Lorenzo area, much of Sunol and part of Cherryland – is registered about 54.07 percent Democrat, 16.83 percent Republican and 24.58 percent decline-to-state. Stark’s closest electoral race was his first, in 1972, when he won 52.9 percent of the vote; he has received more than 70 percent of the general election vote in each of his last six re-elections.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.