are tough times for political elites, who get mighty uncomfortable
every time the hard-pressed, overtaxed, over-regulated,
underappreciated taxpayer challenges their power.
The Los Angeles Times, which has been unyielding in its depiction of
the recall as a giant hissy fit, and unprofessional in its last-minute
airing of charges against the now-governor-elect, is facing not only
the usual subscription cancellations but a loss of credibility because
of its partisan and hectoring coverage of the race.
Even some conservative elites, such as columnist George Will (whose
column is printed on Page 4 of today's Register Commentary section),
are in high dither. Writes Will: "California's recall - a riot of
millionaires masquerading as a 'revolt of the people' - began with a
rich conservative Republican congressman, who could think of no other
way he might become governor, financing the gathering of the necessary
That's not exactly true, given that the recall had long been under
way, and was on schedule probably for the March ballot before Darrell
Issa's dollars helped qualify it for October. But I do thank Will for
reminding us that this was an imperfect revolt.
Perhaps we should have waited around for a perfect one.
Back to the Times. The day after Arnold Schwarzenegger won the race
in a landslide, the Times - in all apparent seriousness - gave the man
it tried so hard to destroy an outline for the future.
Of course if Der Gropenfuhrer, as one Times columnist graciously
called him on Wednesday, puts the plan in place he will instantly
become the source of another recall.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. In explaining "How the Engine
Derailed," the Times editorial pins California's underlying fiscal
dysfunction on several longstanding problems.
The recall has nothing to do with the outgoing governor's lack of
leadership, or his commitment to showering special interests with
special favors, or a left-leaning Democratic leadership that wants to
tax and spend without any limits, or a souring business climate that
has caused the state to hemorrhage manufacturing jobs.
It has nothing to do with the problem outlined by state Sen. Tom
McClintock, who during his honorable but long-shot candidacy for
governor, kept this key point on the table: "In the last four years,
inflation and population have grown at a combined rate of 21 percent.
Revenues coming into the state's coffers have increased 25 percent. ...
We've had a 40 percent increase in state spending in the same period.
And it is this rapacity and recklessness that turned a $12 billion
surplus into a $35 billion operating deficit in a period of less than
Nope, the problem isn't the spending. The problem is budgetary
mechanisms make it too hard for the government to raise taxes every
time it overspends its budget.
Problem No. 1, per the Times: term limits. They replaced
professional legislators with novices. The pros, you see, were far
better at raising taxes in a bipartisan manner, whereas their
less-skilled replacements aren't as good at crafting tax-raising
bipartisan budget deals.
Another key problem: The two-thirds vote rule. The newspaper calls
it a "crippling restriction" that "allows for tyranny by a minority."
Had it not been for the two-thirds vote requirement, however, Gov.
Davis and the Democratic-dominated Legislature could simply have raised
taxes by $38 billion to cover the budget gap. It would have been so
easy. Actually, the rule is the ultimate protection by an unprotected
majority (taxpayers) from a rapacious minority (state officials).
Next problem: Proposition 13. Never mind that mere mention of
reforming it by Schwarzenegger adviser Warren Buffett almost cost the
actor the election. This needs to be fixed. How dare the people put
limits on property tax increases to protect themselves from being taxed
out of their homes? Supporters of Prop. 13 aren't thinking about the
hardships this imposes on bureaucrats who must now go to greater
lengths to raise taxes, which we all know are too low (no matter how
high they get).
To normal, hard-working, middle-class people, the problem is the
political class and its zeal for showering influential groups with
benefits, courtesy of the California taxpayer. It gets back to
McClintock's point: The state has a spending problem, not a revenue
To elites, the problem is that the public, which selfishly doesn't
want to be taxed at confiscatory rates, keeps revolting. It keeps
imposing by initiative what state leaders won't do: namely, place
restrictions on taxation and remove the most craven politicians from
It's not just the restrictions on taxation that bother the elites,
it's the nerve of the peons for sticking up for their money and
freedoms. Columnist Will disses the two-thirds supermajority, but he
mainly seems angered by the presumptuousness of the public.
How dare these spoiled brats engage in "direct democracy," something
the founders frowned upon. I agree that representative democracy is
generally a better approach, but what does a public do when
liberty-hating zealots control every lever of power?
Should we just sit back and take it? Direct democracy isn't ideal. But it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
Notice that attacks on the recall almost always drip with
condescension. Will, writing from his home somewhere outside
California, says "the people deserve to get what they demand. Don't
To Peter King, in his Times column on Wednesday, the recall is the
result of ungrateful Californians, who, instead of enjoying the sun and
palm trees, are protesting "the car tax, which is used to finance
firehouses, libraries and other local government endeavors," and "a new
law that permits undocumented field hands, who make up the majority of
the state's farm labor force, to obtain driver's licenses."
We're just a bunch of babies, you see. As long as the weather is
nice, we ought to allow our earnings to be confiscated and our lives to
be controlled by King's political allies. We're racists, too. All this
anger, sparked I presume by the fascists on talk radio, is "aimed at
the latest wave of new Californians," King intones. (Forget that nearly
half of Latino voters voted yes on the recall.)
Now you understand. This recall had absolutely nothing to do with
fiscal mismanagement, or a hostile regulatory climate that limits
individual freedoms and punishes businesses, or a governor and
Legislature completely controlled by some of the most aggressive
special interests (unions, trial lawyers, Indian casinos), who claim to
represent the "little guy" but seem mainly to fill their own pockets
Anger at the tripled car tax has nothing to do with people, already
pinched by tough economic times, who don't want to spend hundreds of
dollars more a year to pay for governments that neglect basic
responsibilities yet shower their public-employee union workers with
outrageously generous benefits. The license issue isn't about the rule
of law or about pandering to ethnic groups. It's about racism and
childish behavior. And rich guys wanting to be governor.
Fortunately, the governor-elect got a good taste right before the
election of what the elite media are after (his hide) and should take
their advice with as much seriousness as it deserves.