I am going to wait a while before entering panic mode, which so many have done with the polls showing a tightening race, what with the McCain convention bounce. Odd how we get all upset when the expected happens. More problematic is the fact that the press appears to have entered the tank big time for McCain. One full exhibit, this morning’s puff piece about Palin in the Times. We can only hope that Obama realizes what he’s up against and will act accordingly.
But I won’t say a word about all that. I prefer instead to discuss the canary in the mine that is California. We learn today that the prison guard union, which was instrumental in getting rid of Gray Davis, is now turning its sights on Arnold, and intends to initiate a recall petition against him. Arnold, it turns out, is only slightly more popular than Bush. While I admit to feeling a certain amount of satisfaction at the prospect of a Schwarzenegger recall, I can’t help but believe that this development is a symptom of a profoundly dysfunctional state government.
On a minor key, it is a sign of trouble when a prison guard union has the political clout of the California union. I’m a big union supporter, but there’s something seriously wrong when the prison industry has so much power.
On a major key, it seems clear that Arnold’s troubles stem from the state’s budget woes, which themselves are an outgrowth of its political system. One third of the legislature has a veto over any proposed budget, meaning the party out of power, particularly if that party is the Republican party, can block any budget without risking much by way of political consequences. This is only one feature of the California political system that has rendered the state ungovernable. Movement conservatives have used the referendum system (Ironically introduced by progressives. Everyone makes mistakes, but this one might prove fatal) to systematically undermine its ability to function. It’s an article of faith with them that government can’t work, and the referendum system gives them the tool to prove their case. Make no mistake about it, the dysfunctional nature of California’s government is, to them, not a bug but a feature. Term limits, shortsighted property tax initiatives, the two thirds budget requirement, etc., have combined to produce a political system designed to fail, and it is indeed failing. It would be delicious to see Schwarzenegger fall, but the same fate awaits the person who replaces him, since California’s constitution has mandated governmental failure. California has dug itself into a hole from which it cannot emerge; it would be well nigh impossible for it to undo the damage that has been done to its constitution through the referendum process.
Our national constitution is creaky as well. It is an 18th century form of government in a 21st century world. It is unlikely that the founders envisaged a nation in which a state the size of California would have equal representation in the Senate with a state one seventieth its size. It’s not just a question of numerical equality of course. The people in densely populated states have interests distinct from those in states such as Wyoming, but the interests of Wyoming and its like unduly predominate. While the right wing is always anxious to gut the Bill of Rights, there is never any serious talk of taking a fresh look at the basic structure of our government. That part of the Constitution has become like unto holy writ. Any suggestion that it should be fundamentally changed is considered blasphemous.
It’s not just the Senate, of course. George Bush has exploited the weak points in the constitutional system to arrogate powers to himself At some point the system will collapse, most likely degenerating into an elective dictatorship (particularly if McCain wins), with the elections becoming pro forma (if they’re not already) as time goes on. The Constitution wasn’t designed to fail, nor has it been altered in order to achieve that end, but it is showing its age and the signs of senescence are being ignored.