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October 08, 2003

California Schemin'

Yesterday I wrote a brief and somewhat snarky entry about the California election over at By The Way, which occasioned an e-mail from a frequent reader chastising me about my shallow observations and willingness to swallow the Democratic line on the matter. I sort of snapped off his head in an e-mail, which was not very nice, essentially telling him that the observations were shallow because that's what this election deserved. While still agreeing with this, now that the election is over, let me provide more detailed thoughts on the matter.

First: Californians, boy, did you ever get played, you dumb-ass losers. This was, at its root, one of the most flagrantly un-democratic (small "d") elections in the history of the United States, and you followed the script as if you were giggling, squealing paid extras. The recall was bought and paid for by one guy and orchestrated by a few zealots with an extremely narrow agenda, and both these parties were more than happy to push your emotional buttons to get you to do what they wanted you to do, which was boot the current and conventionally-elected office-holder for a chance to install someone more amenable to their own interests. Florida 2000 paranoids aside, this is the closest thing to a coup we've had in the country, and you swallowed it like it was a tasty treat. It's sickening, really.

Note, please, that I have not once made reference to the political parties involved. As it happens, at this moment my interests and the interests of the Democratic party coincide on the matter, but I would be equally opposed to the recall if the sitting governor were a conservative Republican and the moneybags who paid to unseat him, and the partisans rounding up the signatures, were flaming Democrats. From my point of view this isn't about political positions, per se, it's about an unwillingness to respect the election process.

Admittedly, at this moment conservative Republicans are the people who are apparently the most inclined to piss on the election process, which is a culmination of a couple of decades of incestuous intellectual fermentation resulting in an insensate desire for power at nearly any cost. But in their time, Democrats have been more than happy to pull equally undemocratic tricks for their advantage. This recall election is a kissing cousin to a poll tax: Both ostensibly legal (in their time and place), but both designed to skew and corrupt the election process for a select group over others.

Yes, you say, but what about the voting percentages? More Californians voted in this special election than in the regular election! My response to this, of course, is: This is supposed to make me feel better? Californians are too damn apathetic to vote when they're supposed to and should have, but are more than happy to get off the friggin' couch for a stage-managed monkey show? I want to be clear, so there is no misunderstanding here: Every single person who voted in this election who did not vote in the actual gubernatorial election in 2002 is a complete and total fucking tool. You could not have been any more used if you were a spent condom.

You are certainly not the same as, say, the folks in Minnesota who got out of the La-Z-Boy to vote Jesse Ventura into office: Ventura was voted in during an election not bought and paid for by political extremists. And while we're at it, every single person who voted in this California gubernatorial election who does not vote in the next one should very simply be taken out and beaten to death with a pipe, as it will be obvious you have no actual interest in the democratic process, you're just a tourist looking for a thrill ride.

Yes, Gray Davis was unpopular. That's what you get when you don't vote, people. You want your leaders to reflect your interests, haul your whiny asses to the polls on a regular basis.

The very worst thing about this recall election is that it solidifies the concept of the permanent political campaign, with the focus on running for a position rather than the running of the government. Every vote for the recall was a vote for office-holders needing even more money to run their political organizations, money which will inevitably come from special interests and corporations, making the political process even more opaque to the needs of citizens than it already is. Every vote for the recall is a vote that signals that politicians can't vote their consciences, on the rare occasion they have one, for fear of some excitable group deciding that it just can't wait for the normal election cycle to boot their asses out. Every vote for the recall is a vote for short-attention-span government, one that inevitably trends towards the "bread-and-circuses" aspect of the political discourse, rather than the aspect that deals with long-term issues in a serious way.

So, to wrap things up: If you voted for the recall, you might have thought you were voting to boot Gray Davis out of office. But that's because you're a moron, easily distracted by sparkly lights and shiny objects. You were really voting to let small, inherently undemocratic groups run your state all the time, forever. The fact that you thought you were doing the former when in fact you were doing the latter suggests that you would have been more helpful in the governance of your state by hurling yourself off the Golden Gate Bridge and smacking into the bay below with a nice, bone-powdering swack. In addition to clearing out four million bottom-feeders from an already-overpopulated state, California might still have a government still nominally beholden to voters, instead of through special-interest control by mob rule proxy. Good job.

Second, and having said that: All things considered, you could have done much worse than Schwarzenegger, and yes, I really mean it. Look: He's pro-choice, pro-education, (mostly) pro-environment and otherwise a reasonably moderate Republican. Given what your recall coup planners were aiming for, i.e., some far right-wing nutbag to squeak in with 15% of the popular vote thanks to the utterly friggin' insane California recall process, this is a much better result. I know Democratic strategists wouldn't think so; they would have preferred a nutbag so that voters would have stampeded back into the safe arms of the Democratic party come 2006. But a) I'm not a Democrat, so ask me if I care about their strategy, and b) this is exactly what's wrong with the political process these days -- it's about running, not governing. Present me with a pro-choice, pro-education (mostly) pro-environment Republican versus your average Democratic hack (say, Bustamante) and you've got yourself a real interesting time at the ballot box.

I noted in my By The Way journal that while I would have voted against the recall, I would have also voted for Schwarzenegger for governor just to see what would happen next. It would be easy to infer that I meant I expected it to be insanity and chaos -- i.e., entertainment. But I really don't vote like that -- I'm kind of humorless when it comes to the whole voting thing, and I tend to want my politicians to be useful rather than amusing. This is why my favorite personal elected representative of all time was Frank "fabulous roads" Wolf, who was my representative in Virginia (and who I will note is also a conservative Republican -- but an ethical one, I thought, whose votes came from sober thought and reflection rather than the marching orders of Gingrich and/or DeLay).

Rather, I'm genuinely interested in seeing what happens now. I don't think Schwarzenegger can do any real damage, since the legislature is still overwhelmingly Democratically controlled, and I think he could do some actual good. I'm a little nutty this way, but I have a tendency to believe that if one must have a two-party system (and for some unfathomable reason, apparently we in the US must), the best scenario is when the executive and legislative branches are controlled by the opposing parties. That way neither party gets everything they want and by and large the public is served by their need to compromise to get anything done. Thus, while the Cal lege will be able to make sure Schwarzenegger doesn't suddenly give away the state to his rich conservative cronies, if for some reason he feels compelled to do so, by the same token Schwarzenegger will be able to keep the nuttier excesses of the legislature in line.

So: Presumably moderate pro-choice, pro-education, (mostly) pro-environment Republican (as opposed to scary frothing nutbag conservative) as governor, Democrats in the legislature, and everyone suddenly forced to compromise and on notice to actually get something done, at least until the public is distracted by other shiny bits of foil. As I said, for the average Californian, there are worse things that could have happened out of the unholy and inherently un-democratic clusterfuck that was this election. It is the equivalent of intentionally ramming your car into a tree, blasting through your windshield and yet landing relatively undamaged.

Of course, you'd still need X-rays. Along that line, and as I said, now we get to see what comes next -- whether the Schwarzenegger administration can get things done, or whether there is long, deep, sustained damage to the democratic process in California. I genuinely hope for the former and rather darkly suspect the latter.

I will say this, California: If you get the former, boy, did you get lucky. If you get the latter, well, you got what you asked for.

Posted by john at October 8, 2003 08:16 AM

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