Politics & Policy

California’s Choice

The total recall.

Recall is not an ideal process. It tugs representation in the direction of plebiscite. Representative government depends on a degree of trust, and on drawing proper conclusions when trust is violated. We may pick our representatives, and throw them out when their terms end. But while they hold office we should be stuck with their bad behavior, limited by the checks and balances of other office-holders.

The blizzard of bad commentary that has hit the California gubernatorial recall process gets one’s populist blood running, however. With the honorable exception of George Will, most of the critics have been liberal media types, endlessly repeating the same tired words — “shenanigans,” “circus.” (Have they looked over at their news desks to take a look at the barkers?) The scrum of far-fetched candidates, from Larry Flynt to Arianna Huffington, is certainly no more grotesque than the day-to-day governance of the state. California under Gray Davis behaved as if the Internet bubble would last forever. It established a pension plan for public servants of near-Saudi generosity. As Republican Bill Simon Jr. said last year, Davis has been a “coin-operated governor,” dispensing largesse in exchange for political contributions. Now that the bubble has burst, California groans under the burden. As recall loomed, Davis added more-than-fiscal pandering, most conspicuously a bill to let illegal aliens have drivers’ licenses. Davis, the career politician, and the culture of hackery in Sacramento have earned a rebuke.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Tonight Show campaign announcement brought the recall to a boil, but Schwarzenegger, it seems clear, does not merit conservative support. In his multiple careers he has shown himself to be persistent and cunning. He surely believes in his Austrian-immigrant rags-to-riches story, and this seems to have prompted in him at least a curiosity about libertarian economics (he has attended functions sponsored by Reason magazine, and hobnobbed with Milton Friedman). But Schwarzenegger is pro-abortion, pro-gay rights, and pro-gun control. If he has any thoughts on illegal immigration, or the crushing rates of legal immigration from Mexico and points south, he has not revealed them. His campaign utterances so far have been bromides about California’s children. (When politicians speak of children, count the spoons.) Rudy Giuliani was a liberal Republican who was a hard-core conservative on one salient issue — crime. Schwarzenegger appears to be simply a liberal Republican. If he is to win a measure of conservative sympathy, he must endorse a firm no-tax pledge and a serious plan to retrench the Sacramento spending and regulatory regime.

Bill Simon lost narrowly to Davis last year, blitzed by the incumbent’s trademark smear politics. Yet he won 44 percent of the vote; half of that could guarantee a triumph now. Simply getting rid of Davis would brighten life in California. But the state deserves more.


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