Five Myths About the Recall
It's time to tune out the bleating elites and vacant talking heads whose doomsday warnings about these exciting times raise questions about their sanity. They need to spend more time with their de Tocqueville, who could have warned them that here in America nothing is more chaotic than democracy itself. Let's debunk five myths about the recall.
Myth No. 1: The recall election is a circus.
It's a circus only to the degree that cynical, shallow media make it so. Especially the electronic media in which the ringmasters are the TV news directors -- a species that wouldn't recognize a "serious" election if it fell on their empty heads. We're now going to get civics lectures from a bunch of ratings whores who long ago traded in their Sacramento bureaus for freeway telecopters?
Every election cycle attracts marginal and aberrant candidates, and the media usually ignore them after the one or two initial and totally predictable soft features. Angelyne, Gary Coleman, Larry Flynt et al. loom so large in this election only because the telephoto lenses remain so tightly locked onto them.
The L.A. Times (and other major metros) have also helped promote the circus theme, giving undue attention to the carnival candidates. A strange twist, as this is the same Times that barred Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader from the presidential debate it organized during the 2000 campaign. Times management argued at the time that Nader wasn't a serious enough candidate to warrant inclusion. Nader's mistake, apparently, was to not have Gary Coleman chauffeur him down to Spring Street in Angelyne's pink Vette.
Myth No. 2: The recall election will throw the state into chaos.
Whenever encrusted elites lose control of one of their processes, they always warn of chaos, catastrophe and dire consequences. Only they are wise enough to guide our lives. Nothing strikes so much fear into their manipulative little hearts as when the hoi polloi spin out of control -- out of their control.
An election in which pliant, predictable candidates are handpicked in backrooms and bankrolled by special interests, in which the victor comes to power through a $75 million campaign of slash-and-burn TV ads with a record-low turnout, well, thats just one more serious and orderly round of balloting, were supposed to believe. But let just any dumb bastard citizen off the street run for office, totally beyond the reach of the party and lobbyist elites, and that is a sure sign that California is sliding into the sea. What has the establishment so panicked about this election is hardly the threat of chaos. It's rather the unpredictability of the process and its outcome. Imagine electing some candidate that hasn't already been bought and paid for. The horror, the horror.
We're told the recall is a hijacking, a coup, the illegitimate overturning of a legitimate election; ultimately, we're warned, this is the unwashed and witless electorate running riot. Pundits beware: This "circus" election is likely to generate a bigger turnout than last year's "official" contest. A staggering 90 percent of voters say they plan to cast ballots on October 7. In a recent Gallup Poll, almost 70 percent of likely voters said they want to oust Gray Davis.
Those who continue to insist this recall is a sham perhaps ought to take the advice Bertolt Brecht once gave the East German regime: Maybe the government should dismiss the people and elect a new one?
The latest apocalyptic warning from the panicked elites is that with more than 100 names on the ballot, it could take 10 minutes (!) for a voter to go through and maybe 40 hours for some small counties to tally. As a reporter, I've been to more than one country where people braved jail and gunfire in order to vote, or even to just suggest an election should be held. Somehow I think the republic will survive if a lengthy ballot makes a few Californians late to Pilates classes on Election Day.
Myth No. 3: Organized labor is the force behind progressive politics.
It could be and should be. But it isn't. Ask just about any group of frontline union organizers --those 60-hour-a-week troops who actually pick up the authorization cards -- what they think of Gray Davis and they'll start to gag. In private conversation, even the labor bosses openly disdain Davis. These are the same folks, after all, who every couple of years mumble the same pie-eyed gibberish about "taking back the Democratic Party."
Yeah, yeah, yeah. But when served up the golden opportunity to dump a Lite Democrat like Davis (one who had to be threatened with hunger strikes before he signed pro-UFW legislation) and actually take a stab at remolding the party, the labor hierarchy still refuses to make the break. Instead, County Federation chief Miguel Contreras threatens that he will sink any Democrat who breaks ranks in labor's defense of Davis. If only Contreras and the rest of Big Labor had been half that tough with the weenie governor during his first four years. Instead they now circle the wagons around Davis and begin their ritual moaning about right-wing conspiracies. It's boring. And disheartening.
What spectacular evidence of the political bankruptcy of the Democratic Party. Now all those "progressive" labor Democrats can spend the next eight weeks arguing over whether just to vote no on the recall or also vote affirmatively for Cruz Bustamante, the soporific darling of the anti-labor Indian casino lobby and dogged booster of the conservative Joe Lieberman. These self-styled progs are now reduced to almost comical blackmail: Support the most conservative and sluglike Democrat -- Bustamante -- or be accused of "spoiling." Spoiling what?
Myth No. 4: The Green Party is a viable alternative.
This should be a historic opportunity for Green candidate Peter Camejo, who got 5 percent of the vote in last year's gubernatorial election.
Camejo has pushed marijuana legalization and instant-runoff voting to the top of his agenda. These might be cutting-edge issues along the Venice boardwalk or in the UC Santa Cruz dorms, but they are not even remotely now on the minds of most California voters. The Greens' preference for talking to themselves rather than to others destines the party to soon wash up and splinter like the Peace and Freedom folks. Eventually the California Greens will be meeting in one guy's house with different sectarian groups caucusing in the living room and dining room.
Myth No. 5: An independent governor couldn't govern.
Nonsense. Only a populist independent could break up the special-interest logjam in Sacramento. That's why I'm pulling for Arianna, the most progressive candidate with the broadest appeal. When it comes to solving the state's economic crisis, the most Arnold has offered is that he will make sure all Californians have '"fantastic jobs." Right.
And Bustamante panders by vowing to roll back auto-registration fees.
Only Arianna has addressed the 900-pound gorilla of California politics: Proposition 13. Her number-one campaign vow is to start collecting fair --that is, radically increased -- taxes on commercial (not residential) property. She says if elected, she would take that proposal, along with measures for public financing of elections, and a guarantee of universal health care and adequate education, to the Legislature. If, as expected, the Legislature balks, Huffington says she would place the whole package before the voters as a set of ballot initiatives and would use her bully pulpit as governor to push for their approval. That's a serious, responsible and plausible outline for deep reform. The only one on that very long ballot.
But beware: To be successful, it would require actually trusting the voters.
Mark Cooper writes for the LA Weekly.