California's Little Revolution

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Of
this we can be sure, following California's historic recall election
this week: Gray Davis was not kicking himself Wednesday morning,
wondering how things might have turned out with just one more visit
from Bill Clinton.

After
all, Tuesday's revolt was against the political establishment that
is so epitomized by Clinton but that is comprised of members of
both parties. We can only hope that these men and women, who practice
the art of legal plunder so well and who gladly reduce our freedoms
in exchange for increases in their own power, perks, and prestige,
felt uneasy watching the news coming out of the Left Coast. This
was as much of a revolt against them as it was against the heartless
and calculating Davis. If this revolt catches on like so many other
trends foisted on the nation from California, they could be next.

We
can be sure that Davis' fellow governors took notice of the political
landscape of California this year. How many breathed sighs of relief,
knowing that their state constitutions do not include recall provisions
similar to California's? If no other state constitution has such
a provision, I'd guess that number is about 49.

Gubernatorial
politics is crasser in California, where governors from both parties
take turn milking their pet special interests to remain in power
as long as possible before the support fizzles out, a time period
of about two terms. So it went for Pat Brown, and then for Reagan,
and then for Jerry Brown, and for Deukmejian and Wilson. It was
bound to go that way for Davis, and it eventually did, only a little
sooner than normal.

But
the recall was more than a revolt against politics as usual, as
members of the establishment keep repeating. This was a revolt against
government, even in California where it had even grown too large
for its median voter, who is arguably the most left-leaning state
median voter west of Vermont. He understood, whoever he is, that
your state is doomed when the number of producers who are escaping
it is offset by a greater number of immigrants attracted to it by
generous welfare benefits. He understood that California's brand
of socialism was having the devastating effect of sacrificing capital
formation for increased dependency wealth transfers, as did the
California Democrats who gave Arnold Schwarzenegger his plurality.

But
not everyone gets it. It seems that everyone but the politicians
have noticed that in several important elections and referenda over
the last several years, voters are opting for whatever side that
appears to more likely to reduce government's waste and pilfering
and busybodies from their lives. California didn't start this trend.

Consider
that an up-or-down referendum in Massachusetts to repeal that state's
income tax barely lost last November with over 45 percent of the
vote. A reasonable person might conclude when events like that start
happening in that People's Republic, that we may be living in the
End Times.

And
we very well may be, at least from a political perspective. The
California Recall illustrates the truism that Clinton taught to
the country so well in 1992: At the end of the day, it is the economy,
and only the economy, that matters. Shoring up your base, throwing
money at special interests, expressing fears of dangerous extremism
and manufacturing last minute tales of crass womanizing – none of
this matters to a jaded populace that has lost faith that the incumbent’s
policies have any likelihood of turning an economy plagued by recession
on a path to sustainable economic growth.

This
applies just as much in California in 2003 between a tired governor
and a Hollywood actor as it might in 2004 between a tired president
and a former Vermont pol, and therein lies one of the important
messages of the recall. If a superficial but rich political neophyte
can claim the governorship of the most populous state, then certainly
a likeable but unknown former governor of a state whose population
is smaller than Dade County, Florida, can claim the presidency.

And
such a result, though devastating to a political class that craves
the stability that results from an obedient electorate, would be
welcomed by those who value liberty, who are tired of the ever-increasing
levels of wealth transfers that occur at all levels of government,
and who understand that a little revolution, now and then, is a
good thing.

October
9, 2003

Chris
Westley
[send him mail] teaches
economics at Jacksonville State University, Alabama.

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