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
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
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
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
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
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
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
who are both politically aware yet incorruptible?
Probably not, unfortunately. Generations of manipulation by
the Democratic and Republican parties have resulted in an
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.