Although it didn’t appear on the ballot, democracy won Tuesday with the declaration of Arnold Schwarzenegger as the new governor of California.
While we don’t condone Schwarzenegger’s personal life and don’t agree with his political views, the recall of Gov. Gray Davis proved that the people can rise above an often-stifling two-party system.
Davis barely won re-election in 2002 against Bill Simon-an incompetent candidate running an incompetent campaign, and Davis made sure Simon would be his opponent by attacking former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan in the Republican primaries.
Mismanagement of California’s budget, energy crisis and fiscal policies created a deficit larger than most other states’ entire budgets.
A majority of Californians disapproved of Davis’ job performance even while a majority re-elected him, faced with what they believed was a lack of better choices. Stifled by a party system that limited candidates and re-elected a lousy politician, the people struck back, shattering most experts’ predictions by giving Schwarzenegger more votes than Davis received in either the recall election or his 2002 re-election.
The East Coast elitists have clucked their tongues for months that such a movement of democracy is an “unprecedented perversion of representative government,” as Washington Post columnist David Broder so foolishly declared in July.
Yet, in California, voter turnout was improved, the political system re-energized and such issues as taxes, spending and balancing the budget became the central issues of the election (at least until Davis’ biggest cheerleader, the Los Angeles Times, tried to steal the show with a week left).
The recall is less a repudiation of the liberal economic policies of taxing and spending-those policies had been invalidated long ago-than a repudiation of Davis’ priggish personality and smarmy tactics.
Foolish rhetoric on the part of national Democrats about unseating popularly elected officials is as hypocritical as it is insipid. The people selected and reselected Davis. And now they have deselected him.
Such anti-recall rhetoric has built as the Democratic Party tries to stem what it fears will be a tide that carries into 2004.
Democrats, however, should fear more a successful Schwarzenegger term that tips California’s 54 electoral votes to a Republican president for the first time since another actor-turned-governor enraptured the state.
Regardless of the recall’s effect on national politics, the people of California took the ultimate democratic action Tuesday, and for that, they should be praised.