Gwnewch y pethau bychain

California Recall

I spent a lot of time yesterday perusing various peoples reactions to the California election. Most of them were remarkably similar:

“Oh my god, I can’t believe they elected Arnold” followed by one of a series of predictable Schwarzenegger jokes. The truth of the matter is that Arnold is entirely beside the point.

Yes, the California recall election is a travesty, but not because an action-movie star won. We’ve put actors in office before. Ben Jones, the guy who played good-ole-boy mechanic “Cooter” on The Dukes of Hazzard was a Congressman. So was Sonny Bono. We sent Ronald Reagan to the White House for goodness sake. The union has survived all this and more.

The recall was a travesty precisely because it allowed a moneyed minority of discontent demagogues to hijack the electoral process. Gray Davis was an unpopular governor, to be sure. And a lot of bad stuff happened on his watch, many of which he could probably be held directly accountable for. Having said that, we already have a process for getting someone you don’t like out of office — they’re called elections, and they happen on a regular schedule. As unpopular as Davis was, I don’t think you can reasonably claim that he was either criminal or incompetent. And being unpopular shouldn’t be enough to hound someone out of office.

As for Arnie, hey, he might even do well. As Republicans go, he’s surprisingly palatable to my moderately liberal palate. He’s proffered himself to be pro-choice, pro-education, and (reasonably) pro-environment. He has to work with an overwhelming Democratic majority in the legislature. And while he won’t win any diction awards, he’s not an idiot.

I actually imagine that, while they claim to be pleased, the Republican masterminds behind the recall are secretly furious that they couldn’t get one of their frothing wingnut pinheads into the Governor’s Mansion — there was probably only one good shot in that canon, and with it they got — Arnold. A moderate movie star who is married to a Kennedy. I think I’m almost amused.

But I’m not amused at the lengths the pinheads will go to to undermine the legitimate democratic process. Maybe it’s because, unlike the neo-cons, I actually take that whole Constitution thing seriously. I hope there are enough people like me to put an end to this nonsense soon, or we can chalk up the whole Great Experiment as a failure and move on.



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  1. Why is election automatically a democratic process but unelection — recall — isn’t? California law permits recalls, not just for criminal behavior (we have impeachment for that, in the rest of the country) but any time the voters want to, for any reason or none. It’s no more a travesty to use that than it is to use the opportunity to vote someone out at the end of four years. Democracy doesn’t all have to go on the same timing. Votes of no-confidence at any time during a term are standard in virtually every democratic country in the world except for the US.

    • I am most concerned about the trend showing by one side of a partisan divide that seems hellbent on doing anything they can to seize power. I’m sorry if the nuances of that don’t come across in my ramble, but I think most objective observers can look at what just happened in California and realize that it was a mockery.

      But that’s just my opinion.

      • I think most objective observers can look at what just happened in California and realize that it was a mockery.

        Especially as the recall did not happen in a vaccuum. It isn’t just the recall itself. It’s the recall on the heels of the Florida election travesty, of GW Bush is office, of the War Against Terrorism, and a host of other indicators of a “trend showen by one side of a partisan divide that seems hellbent on doing anything they can to seize power.” -H…

    • I think that too much democracy is a bad thing as it generates instability. A government is not something that should be “fired” without cause, and the notion of a recall can allow for that all too readily. We already have a system for dealing with poor elected officials in the form of regular elections, and not giving someone time to learn the job makes learning it impossible.

      Think of an elected official as having a contract for the entire term. Unless he violates the terms of the contract -- i.e. truly criminal offenses -- he gets to serve that whole time. You dont like what you got? Then other ways to protest exist, as most states’ legislatures serve shorter terms than their governors.

      I think that the non-confidence vote in Europe and other places has served to undermine any sense of progress or stability. Italy and Japan have both gone throw stretches when they changed rulers annually, and have suffered weakened governments and economies with such changes.

      The worst thing about the recall is the likelihood it will lead to the permanent campaign, to elected officials always being afraid to take a chance that something necessary might offend too many voters, especially as a recall process doesn’t need a majority to start, just a lot of signatures.

      • This is a policy argument, not an ethical one, and I don’t have an objection to it. A strong advocate of term limits and constitutional limitations on government power, I’m not one to favor too much democracy. That’s very different from saying it’s somehow undemocratic for the majority to undo what the majority did in the first place — and whatever the policy for initiating a recall process, it still takes a majority of the voters to pull a politician out. Given the huge turnout this election, odds are good that more people voted to yank Davis than ever voted to install him. I don’t like the results, and I don’t especially like the California law which makes it possible, for the same reasons that you don’t. But it is not an undemocratic law, even if it is a bad one, and it is not unethical to make use of it while it’s there.

        • I don’t think it’s wrong to say that it’s a bad law, and that it’s antithetical to the spirit of the republic we live in.

          For that matter, I strongly disagree with the notion that because it’s legal, then there’s nothing wrong with doing it. Doing the wrong thing is doing the wrong thing, and it is *absolutely* an ethical imperative. “Because I can” is the refuge of the bully and the scoundrel, and I want no part of it.

          • Antithetical to the spirit of a republic, and antithetical to the spirit of democracy are two very different things. I disagree that this is either, but I think a much stronger case can be made for your present argument than your former one. Democracy unbridled is in itself antithetical to the spirit of the republic we live in; reread the Federalist papers. But saying something is wrong, or even anti-American, and saying it is undemocratic, are not the same thing.

            I think there is a strong difference between doing what is technically legal but evidently in contrast to the intention or spirit — the legal loophole — and doing *exactly* what a law was designed for the express purpose of enabling. California didn’t leave an inadvertent legal gap permitting recalls; it *sought* recalls, wanted recalls, invited recalls. I do not necessarily believe it was good policy of them to do so but I do not think it is unethical to use the election laws precisely as they are supposed to be used.

  2. I hope there are enough people like me to put an end to this nonsense soon, or we can chalk up the whole Great Experiment as a failure and move on.

    What would we move on to, do you think? Honest question. I know it could be taken as a snark, but I’m truly wondering what you’re thinking of as alternatives.

  3. Recalling may ot be so bad, in and of itself. However, the California laws have a very low recall-threshhold. It is actually kind of easy with a bit of money and PR to get it rolling. The laws, as I understand it, were written before big money and big media were terribly common.

    So, in general the thing can probably be fixed by amending the law somewhat. We should also note that it’s not entirely a matter of big money and big PR -- they only start the ball rolling. The people of the state could have stopped it by voting no to the recall. They chose not to. They could have chosen to put in a man from the same political party, and again, chose not to do so. It it their state, and they can do with it as they wish, for the most part.

    The scary thing to me isn’t the recall. Or an actor in office. The scary thing is how little actual information Arnold gave out on his intended policies. The man had six weeks or so of campaigning. I’d question his ability to come up to speed on the issues in that time, much less be able to formulate well-considered policies to fix things.

    In essence, the scary thing is that the man who won did so almost entirely on the basis of fame, rather than on the basis of policy or ability. And the fault there lies entirely with the people of California.

    • It’s the whole Grand Illusion school of politics. This isn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last.

      Of course, it’s *easy* for me to be blase abo the whole thing — I don’t have to live there and cope with the direct fallout of what happens in California.

  4. Well, I already wrote my own comments here, so I only have one additional observation to make:

    Be careful with your use of the terms “Constitution” and “democratic”. A recall is perfectly democratic; if anything, it allows for too much power to the direct electorate. And the California constitution specifically allows for easy recalls (though none has succeeded before). Historically, the California constitution was set up (at the time of the robber barons, etc.) to make it easy to overthrow entrenched power. That’s also why referenda are easier in California than in most states. Again, you can argue that it’s a bad idea to run things that way, but it’s perfectly Constitutional.

    Was the recall part of a “trend shown by one side of a partisan divide that seems hellbent on doing anything they can to seize power”? I’d argue that (1) if so, it’s the least scary, most democratic, and (given that a far-right candidate did NOT win) least successful example, and (2) considering Gray Davis’s constant-campaign and “gimme campaign contributions and then I’ll listen to you” administration, I’d say it’s quite a bipartisan trend.

    • This thread is devolving into semantics, but I’d like to point out that my last paragraph is actually more about the *trends* I’m seeing, and not necessarily about the recall specifically.

      We can nitpick for hours, nay days, on the nuts and bolts of the law and whether this was a legitimate use of the law or not, and I still say that’s all beside the point. What I see happening, with stunning regularity, is a political movement willing to use any means it can discern to gain more power for itself, to such an extreme that I am personally revolted.

      Y’see, I think there’s a spirit, a philosophy if you will, to the law as well. And I actually think it’s important.

      You’re right — the California constitution allowed this to happen. No one did anything illegal. Someone figured out that they could do this, and they spent their money to make it happen, and the people turned out and made their choice.
      All very well and good.

      And it’s still horrible and disgusting and completely against every single thing that is right and good. In my opinion, sure. But that’s all I ever offered, along with the hope that enough people shared my opinion that this can be stemmed before it gets *entirely* out of hand.

  5. I utterly agree.

  6. God bless America. (And goddess too).

    Isn’t it great that we live in a country where we can take our situation so for granted that we say things like “too much democracy is a bad thing”? Considering the state of the world -- say, North Korea -- I’m overjoyed and just a bit guilty about being born into such privilege.

    I am always amused at comments like :”elected officials always being afraid to take a chance that something necessary might offend too many voters”. Aren’t elected officialy supposed to be REPRESENTATIVES of the voters? Are you inferring that once someone is in power, that they are no longer accountable? I believe that what we saw in California is that the people reacted the only way they could to make a change in something that they were dissatisfied in. It’s true, this was not a grassroots campaign, yes Issa paid 1.7 Million dollars to hire professional signature gatherers- but no one paid the citizens who signed the petitions. No one paid the voters. If people were happy with the state of the state, they would have not signed the petitions and there would have been no recall. These are the same people, after all, who re-elected Davis just 11 months ago.

    And the election turn out was huge -- showing that, perhaps, the problem was in not enough people showing up for the first election. That’s part of the process, I realize, but everyone makes a big deal about having a popular “mandate” -- so having MORE people show up to vote for an issue and for a man seems to make MORE sense.

    I don’t agree that the people of any state should just “suck it up” for the good of democracy if the don’t like their leaders. If anything, this will put officials everywhere on notice that they’d better do what they promised, that they’d better act in the best interest of the voters, or the voters will boot their butts out. Is it going to cause contention and partisan divide? Yes. We have always had a confrontational political system, with one side being hellbent on seizing power any way they can. This has been going on for 200 years, so this is no different that politics as usual. Just another vehicle for the same tactics. But hey, we operate in a weird two party system. So there can only be a bigger or lesser divide. The less the divide is, the less valid either side becomes. This is just one other “not perfect” thing in our publicity oriented political system, but I think it’s a better alternative than the people feeling that they have no recourse.

    Just my .02.

    “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

    Benjamin Franklin (1706 -- 1790), Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759

    • Thanks, Scott. That’s a good one.

      Meanwhile, I’ll observe that part of the problem in California was that Davis ran attack ads against the more moderate Republican candidate during the Republican primary season in the — successful! — hope that he would get to run against the weaker candidate that he thought (accurately) that he could defeat. You’d wish that the voters in the Republican primary there would have seen through this and selected the stronger candidate to face Davis, but…

      I wish that we’d been able to recall our previous Republican governor in Illinois. The stench of corruption coming from his administration (and the sheer hamhanded incompetence of the way that he operated) wiped out the Republican party at the state level in the last election.

      Sadly, the Democrats around here are (IMO) equally corrupt. But they’re better at it. *sigh*

      • To be honest, it wasn’t only the Republicans who were considering Riordan; it was a hefty portion of the rest of the voters (myself included) as well. The Republicans shot themselves in the foot, fair and square.

        And no, I didn’t vote for Arnie. But you have to admit he was the closest thing to a moderate the Republicans have fielded in years, and would never have made it through the primary process. He was on the ballot because there was no limit to the number of candidates who could declare for any party, rather than the usual only one of each.

        Gray Davis was never all that popular to begin with. He only got in in the first place because the other major party couldn’t bring itself to field electable candidates.

        And I suspect they still won’t be able to, come the next regular election.

  7. Just my comment about Davis and incompetence. Starting with a 30 billion dollar surplus and having a 20 billion dollar deficit in less than a year? And telling me I have to kick in to correct this? How the hell do you spend 50 billion dollars and have nothing to show for it? If I ran my checkbook that way it would be taken away from me.

    How much longer were we supposed to put up with this? Until the next election? Isn’t being an elected offical a job? Can’t you be fired from a job if you prove to be no good at it?

    The people of California, as hypocrital and wacky as we are, spoke loudly and I’m proud of us.

    • Now tell me where I go to recall Enron and its various partners in crime. Oh yeah, and can I recall the current recession?

      Nope, Grey Davis probably SHOULD have told the power companies to buzz off and just left much of the state in the dark until they could quit playing monkeydoodles with the price, but it’s not entirely his fault that he didn’t.

  8. The california recall was covered by our media pretty good, considering it hardly effects us. At first, I found it interesting and okay that a politician is recalled (it happened in Germany, too), and as Arnie seemed to be a rather reasonable republican, I didn`t mind him becoming a canditate or governor.
    But then I read more about the way those recalls are happening and that it is almost entirely a question of money to recall somebody. Or to run for an office in the first place. And I found it another scaring step of the decline of democracy in the United States. Of couse, as a foreigner, an American might say that it is none of my business. Yet as the United States is a superpower which tends to press its views and positions on the rest of the world, so in a way, it is my business, too. (Think about the reaction of the American government when Germany refused to join the war against Iraque).
    Of couse, the recall of Davis and the election of Arnie is not the end of the civilized world nor of the democracy in the US. Still it shows clearly the differences in our systems or in our perception and definition of democracy. Our leaders don`t pay themselves into office. Our chancellor was a poor workers child. He would never have made it into office in the States.

    • Don’t believe everything you read. Seriously.

      It is easier to run for office if you have substantial personal wealth, because you have to do less fundraising to get started. But it isn’t a requirement. As I recall, Clinton wasn’t wealthy before getting into the government. Having money (or fame, or both) just makes it easier for you to get into politics at a higher level without “paying your dues” first.

      The fact that our government is dominated by lawyers worries me a bit, though. But that’s a different problem.

      • In the UK there are two ways to get a decent campaign — either personal wealth or be part of a party and enough of a lickspittle that they put you forward as a candidate (OK, you might actually find a party that you agree with enough, but I certainly couldn’t stand for any othe major parties without being a hypocrite).

        I wish we /did/ have recall in the UK. Or impeachment. 4-5 years is far too long to allow someone like our current President (who we elected as Prime Minister and is well on his way to being Dictator-Elect) to go without throwing him out — and even then the public can only do that if under about 25% of the voters vote for that party (see “First Past the Post” and geographical distributions)! His party can chuck him out, but only usually on a vote of No Confidence (done by the government, ordinary people have no say).

        Personally, I’d rather have Arnie. At least he isn’t a “true believer” in what he thinks is the “one true way” (yes, Blair is sincere, fanatics often are and even articles in The Times have noted that he displays dangerous signs of insanity)…

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