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Jewish World Review June 20, 2001/ 30 Sivan 5761

Wesley Pruden

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The wine goes flat,
the tub grows cold -- LOS ANGELES | California is the place where the ī60s began, the decade that set off the great slide of the America a lot of us grew up in, and now there are signs that California is growing up. Maybe.

The electric power shortage, with its threat of rolling blackouts (so far mostly a threat) frightening everyone north of Los Angeles, seems to have persuaded some but by no means all Californians that maybe not even they can any longer afford the politics of indulgence. The wine is flat, the cheese has mold on it, and the bean sprouts are going to seed. The hot tub is suddenly cold.

The price of gasoline has soared past $2 a gallon, headed for $3 in some places. The dot-com boom is dot.gone. Schools are tattered and usually overcrowded, often with immigrants from south of the border who are expected to make California the first Hispanic-majority state within 30 years if present population trends continue. (If present trends continue most of them will be poor and unable to speak English.)

This is new for Californians, who have traditionally (if there be such an animal as "tradition" in the land of hipper-than-thou) basked in the admiration of people from everywhere else, who longed to share in the American dream as it was dreamed in California. Being the object of national pity if not the butt of jokes takes some getting used to: Tennessee recruiters, on the prowl for companies that might be interested in relocating, not long ago sent flashlights to executives of Silicon Valley firms. The executives got the joke, but they didnīt think it was funny.

Californians take comfort wherever they can. Thereīs a certain gloating, expressed in media accounts and conversations in restaurants and around the pool, about the power outages last week in Georgetown, invariably described as "the posh neighborhood thatīs home to the power elite in the nationīs capital." The unspoken subtext, of course, is that these are the elites of that old meanie George W. Bush, who refused to rescue California from its dark night of the soul, or at least from the dark night of its karma, when suddenly everyone was scared that the lights were about to go out.

But everyone -- well, nearly everyone -- is mad at Gray Davis, the Democratic governor, as well, because he couldnīt persuade George W. to bail out the white wine-and-bean-sprout dream. The governor warned the president that a recession in California, whose $1.3 trillion economy just passed France and is closing on Britain as the fifth-largest in the world, would inevitably drag down the rest of the United States. The president was not persuaded.

What the state has to resolve are the effects of self-inflicted wounds, beginning with a housing crunch caused in large part by severe restrictions on where mere homo sapiens could live (some large developments have been held up for 20 years to make sure the thrips and nematodes approve changes to their environment), an indecisive state government and the goofy 1996 state law that set caps on what electric utilities could charge their customers with no thought to what the utilities would have to pay for energy.

Itīs too soon to know whether California can suck it up and find the will to accommodate the new reality, but some Californians are beginning to understand why they have to. "We got too wine-and-cheesy," Kevin Starr, the state librarian and author of several books on California, tells USA Today. "There was psuedo-environmentalism."

This wine-and-cheesy attitude is reflected in the ferocious resistance to building anything that might disturb the lotus: new power plants, new refineries, new airport runways, roads, reservoirs, even new apartment houses. Just the things, as anyone from Nashville, Fort Wayne or Sioux Falls could tell them, that make the comfortable life comfortable.

One marker of how that may be changing is whatīs happened to Tom Hayden, one of the Chicago Seven, the radicals whose destructive agitation helped set off the sordid '60s.

Life hasnīt been the same for Mr. Hayden since he gave up being Mr. Jane Fonda, a flaky state legislator -- first an assemblyman, then a state senator -- who has run for just about everything else, United States senator, governor, mayor, and most recently, Los Angeles city councilman. His once-famously radical wife has moved on to become a Georgia matron and born-again Christian, and only Saturday, the city clerk tallied the last of the ballots and Mr. Hayden lost to a onetime U.S. prosecutor, of all people, by 369 votes. It was the third high-profile race he had lost in seven years as the champion of leftist environmentalism.

"I want desperately to be more than Sisyphus," Mr. Hayden wrote in a memoir published more than a decade ago, "who was condemned by his prideful defiance to push his boulder up the mountain only to see it roll back." Not a bad obituary for the manīs decade.

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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