Sticking With the Status Quo

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On November 8, California suffered a disaster worse than any eight-point earthquake. Voters spurned Governor Schwarzenegger’s attempts to limit the power of the modern liberal forces that are bankrupting the state.

One of Schwarzenegger’s proposals attempted to restrict public employee unions from using dues for political contributions; another attempted to keep teachers (hence, members of teachers’ unions) from receiving the equivalent of tenure after only two years’ work. Others tried to cap state spending and fairly reapportion the hideously gerrymandered legislature (virtually none of California’s districts is competitive, and the legislature is controlled by Democrats). These measures lost, respectively, by margins of 6%, 10%, 24%, and 18%.

Why? Union advertising successfully portrayed them as measures designed to “hurt schools” and “children” and hand over control of politics to the arbitrary power of judges (the governor proposed that retired judges handle reapportionment). The latter claim was a bizarre one to be made by modern California liberals, than whom no one is more litigious or more supportive of judicial intervention; nevertheless, it was made and it was taken seriously.

A more attractive reason for Schwarzenegger’s defeat is people’s distrust of activist government. I know it’s stupid, but many voters seem to have viewed his efforts with the same suspicion with which they viewed other political attempts to change things. Every statewide proposition failed, including modern liberal proposals to involve the state in the prescription drug business (No: 58% and 61%), a proposal to reregulate electric service providers (No: 66%), and a proposal to mandate parental notification before minors’ abortions (No: 53%).

What happened in California may also be part of the same wave of conservatism, in the sense of a desire to keep things the same, no matter what, that was visible in Ohio’s simultaneous defeat of radical Democrats’ attempts to create a more Democrat-friendly electoral system, and in Washington’s failure to roll back a 91/2 cent gas tax increase.

In polities like California, which are dominated by modern liberal interests and institutions, conservatism of this kind is almost as disastrous as radical attacks on individual rights. It means that expropriation of taxpayers’ property and its diversion from useful to useless (indeed, destructive) purposes will continue on a massive scale, and as the normal way of doing business. The power of unions may be fading;

the economics of government intervention may be discredited intellectually; the terrible effects of state schools and unionized teaching may be evident to all (though uninterpreted by some); but it now appears that California will need another political spasm like the sudden shudder that cast out the last modern liberal governor and replaced him with the German gymnast before anything like sanity is restored to the land of nut-bearing trees.

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