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So you say you want a recall?

by David J. Raymond, Opinion editor emeritus

So, the people of California, in their own unique way, have made their voices heard and by a wide margin, recalled the governor they had reelected just the year before, also by a wide margin. Now it falls to the pundits.


The “experts” on both sides of the political spectrum have attempted to make sense of it all and, not surprisingly, their analyses have sounded like party platforms.

The Democrats insist that the recall was a rejection of one individual, rather then their party philosophy, (whatever that may be) and that because the governor has fallen by the wayside does not mean that California voters will not be voting for a Democratic Presidential candidate.

The Republicans, of course, have lost no time relishing the “triumph” of a Republican candidate. They seem conveniently to have forgotten that they themselves did not openly endorse that candidate until two weeks before the election. Rather they loudly proclaim, now, that the election results are proof that Californians are tired of the high tax-and-spend fiscal insolvency of Democratic financial policy. Californians, the GOP says now, wish to embrace the Republican idea of sound economics involving enormous tax refunds to the wealthy and enormous deficit spending to support dubious military adventures of value especially to campaign supporters such as Halibu…
On second thought, perhaps not.

Some in the GOP have also openly speculated on this election’s possible ramifications on the future of the Electoral College, particularly the possibility that California’s vast number of votes might possibly go Republican, something that has not happened in 20 years.

Well, to paraphrase a certain cereal commercial, “Silly rabbits….”

In their eagerness to “spin” the recall to their best advantage, Democrats and Republicans alike have managed to miss the central message sent by the voters.

They are angry.

To many, and not just in California, politicians, Republican and Democrat alike, are much like aristocrats: they hear the concerns of the common people, but listen only at election time. Gray Davis was recalled not because he was a bad governor, ineffective administrator, or even a Democrat, but because he is a traditional politician, part of an “elite” group who see elected office as a source of privilege rather than a public duty. Traditional politicians garner favors and exert influence on those around them. They foster the beliefs that their personal ambition is somehow beneficial to those they supposedly represent and that the end justifies the means. No wonder Californians are tired of them? Why aren’t we all?

In essence, Davis lost the respect and confidence of the people of California, and the fact should be noted that they did not select either Democrat Cruz Bustamante nor Republican Tom McLintock—both traditional politicians—to replace Davis. Instead, a majority of Californians chose to entrust the future of their state to a non-politician, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

This begs the question of what qualifications the action star possesses that make him qualified to be governor? On the surface, very little, which in this case, was an asset. Despite his affiliation with the Republican Party, Schwarzenegger is seen by many as an independent thinker whose ideas and motives are his own rather than the party’s.

More importantly, perhaps, Schwarzenegger is the latest embodiment of American fascination with the heroic individual. The hero possesses the virtues of action and results, with success or failure clearly defined and measured. Politicians, on the other hand, are seen as creatures of opportunity and compromise, of murky, even doubtful, virtues, whose every word comes tinged with the aura of cynical marketing. The fact that Schwarzenegger’s “heroism” is but the combination of imagination and cinema only emphasizes voter frustration and a desire for individual leadership.

To be certain, Schwarzenegger is not without talent, having garnered a considerable fortune in real-estate investments that, debacles like Planet Hollywood aside, have made him one of the richest businessmen in California. He will need such acumen, as he must straighten out a struggling economy without raising taxes or cutting popular social programs.

He will no doubt confront a Democratic legislature awaiting his first misstep with hyena-like anticipation, and, at the same time, a Republican minority that will, no doubt, offer its support in exchange for his adapting its right-wing social philosophy, all without the aid of a timely quip, film edit, or futuristic android.

It’s a daunting task for a political neophyte, but then, how well has California fared at the hands of “professionals”?

So, can the recall election be considered a portent for the future? Will the 2003 recall election be the start of high-profile celebrities who are both politically aware yet incorruptible?

Probably not, unfortunately. Generations of manipulation by the Democratic and Republican parties have resulted in an election process that, above all else, ensures the continuance of their rule and that, with few exceptions, anyone elected to public office will not unduly “rock the boat” or challenge the power structure. Witness Schwarzenegger’s double-speak response to last-minute allegations of sexual harassment: neither admission of guilt or assertion of innocence, but very political.

Yet, for all its surrealistic goofiness, the California recall election could very well be a warning shot across the bows of both political parties. The assumption that American politics is but an “either/or” proposition is no longer acceptable to the average American voter. They want change, not just a recycling of political elites. In that respect Schwarznegger can be seen not as a savior, but rather a barometer of public discontent and frustration. If Schwarznegger proves a capable, effective governor without surrendering to the machinations of party politics, then perhaps the 2003 recall election might prove worth all the ridicule California had to endure.

If not…there’s always Gary Coleman.



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