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What’s the Matter with California?



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Here I am, happily back in my beloved semi-native state of California, and along comes a Public Policy Polling survey that finds that — surprise! — Americans hate California. Not just because it’s cold and it’s damp, especially in February, but because . . . well, I’m not sure exactly why, except that politics seem to have a lot to do with it.

While Americans have favorable views of most of the 50 states, five polled in negative territory, with California at the bottom. (The others were Utah, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Illinois.) Only 27 percent of respondents (mostly women and Democrats) had anything nice to say about the left-coast leviathan, while 44 percent (including large numbers of Republicans) wanted nothing to do with it.

That, of course, is fine with us Californians: If all the easterners would pack up and take their allergy-inducing plants and grass lawns with them, along with their New York and New England blue-state chips on their shoulders, this could be the same fine, fine, super-fine place it was when I was a kid here in the 1950s and early ’60s: patriotic, defense-industry-oriented, and home to large concentrations of uniformed servicemen, Dust Bowl fleeing Okies, and hardworking Mexican immigrants. Think a combination of Texas and South Carolina, with better weather.

The problem is, many of those folk left long ago and the wrong kind of people have replaced them. The PPP poll shows that Democrats like California by 91 points more than Republicans. (Dems also gave high marks to high-tax, socially liberal blue states like Hawaii, Oregon, and New York, while Republicans heavily favored Alaska and Texas.) Over the past half-century, California has turned from a free-enterprise powerhouse – the very embodiment of the American Dream — into a liberal’s fantasy of a totally regulated nanny state, with taxes among the nation’s highest and a host of regulatory agencies just itching to get their hands around the neck of private industry and squeeze.

That controlling impulse extends down the food chain, where it morphs into the lifestyle fascism the coastal elite knows and, apparently, loves — the social moralism behind the happy face with the iron fist, the notion that the state knows best, and that an individual’s right to the pursuit of happiness stops on the desks of unelected bureaucrats in Sacramento. 

The California Air Resources Board recently issued a Zero Emission Vehicle initiative, which mandates that by 2025, 15 percent of the new cars sold in the state must have zero or near-zero emissions — and leaves it up to automakers to figure out to invent such a miraculous conveyance. This sort of magical thinking should best be left to Hollywood, where “green energy” is just a Keanu Reeves finger snap away.

But not only does the state boss businesses around, it bosses people too. As we used to say in Germany: Everything that is not expressly allowed is forbidden.

Take the People’s Republic of Santa Monica. On the surface, there’s nowhere nicer. Streets are clean and well paved, with plenty of bike lanes and pedestrian walkways; the Pacific Ocean sparkles invitingly nearby. But cop cars lurk on nearly every downtown street corner, freely using their blast microphones to put some giddyup into hapless motorists trying to find the freeway entrance. Parking tickets and moving violations rain down freely. Perfection — if you don’t count the “homeless” on the Third Street Promenade — comes with a price.

Even pedestrians aren’t immune from the ministrations of Big Nanny: At some major crosswalks, a recorded voice blares at you that it’s safe — or not safe — to cross. Jaywalking will get you busted. Heaven help you if you smoke within 20 feet of public-building doorways and windows, at the beach or on the famous Santa Monica pier – and be sure to ask a lifeguard if it’s okay to play football or Frisbee on the beach, or be fined $100.

And then there’s the Permanent Governing Class. When I was a kid, Pat Brown was the governor. When I returned to work in San Francisco in 1977, his son Jerry was the governor. When I came back last year, Jerry was (once again) the governor. It practically makes you long for the days of Jesse Unruh and Tom Kuchel – and if you know how to pronounce “Kuchel,” you’re a Californian of a certain age.

They say that trends start in California and move eastward. The rest of the nation should take a good long look at where the Golden State is headed and ask itself: Do we really want to go there? And then stay home. 

What’s the matter with California? Nothing, if you all would just go away and leave us alone.



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