The Corner

California: Political Lagger, Not Leader

Writing in The New Republic, veteran California observer Peter Schrag claims that the Golden State is the future way of national politics. Really, it’s just the opposite. California — ATM of American politics, world-class economy and all — is something of a no-man’s land as far as national political trends are concerned.

Here’s why:

1. Lack of star power.     For a nation-state that embodies the cult of celebrity and “beautiful people,” our political ruling class is surprisingly devoid of rising stars. There are none on the Republican side in the land of Reagan and Nixon, and as for the Democrats, their top four leaders — Gov.-elect Brown, Sens. Feinstein and Boxer, soon-to-be-former Speaker Pelosi — have one thing in common: age. They’re all septuagenarians — old enough to be Barack Obama’s parents. Not exactly a youthful image in this land of age-defying solutions.

2. Lack of relevance.     Think California will play any serious role in 2012? Guess again. On the GOP nominating side, South Carolina stands a better chance of being a showdown state (assuming Sarah Palin wins in Iowa and Mitt Romney upends her in New Hampshire). As for the general election, the action will be in the usual presidential battleground states (Florida, Ohio, the upper Midwest). And California? A double-digit wins for the Dems, during which neither side does much in-state campaigning.

3. Lack of interest from Washington.     Yes, we have financial troubles (massive budget deficit, crushing long-term pension obligation) that are more European than a Schwarzenegger sound bite. But John Boehner isn’t likely to send money to bail us out. You’ll see a lot about California in screaming Drudge Report headlines, not in congressional floor speeches

4. Lack of a progressive agenda.     For all the liberal dominance in this deep-blue state, take a look at how Californians voted on the initiative portion of the November ballot. Given the chance, they said no to government — be it legalizing marijuana (for revenue’s sake), creating a new fee to fund state parks, or undoing corporate tax breaks (again, for the sake of social spending). Yes, voters cut liberals in the state legislature some slack by making it easier to pass a state budget — but only because the backers of said idea were smart enough to run an anti-Sacramento ad campaign. As for the incoming Democratic governor, he’s already sending mixed signals on raising taxes to balance the budget. Not exactly “the dream will never die.”

To the extent California has a destiny, for now it’s that of a destination state — a vacation destination. We’re a nice place to visit, but Chris Christie or Marco Rubio wouldn’t want to live here.

Bill Whalen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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