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Jewish World Review Oct. 9, 2003 / 13 Tishrei, 5764

George Will

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A conservative travesty | California's recall — a riot of millionaires masquerading as a "revolt of the people" — began with a rich conservative Republican congressman, who could think of no other way he might become governor, financing the gathering of the necessary signatures. Now this exercise in "direct democracy" — precisely what America's Founders devised institutions to prevent — has ended with voters full of self-pity and indignation removing an obviously incompetent governor. They have removed him from the office to which they reelected him after he had made his incompetence obvious by making most of the decisions that brought the voters to a boil.

The odor of what some so-called conservatives were indispensable to producing will eventually arouse them from their swoons over Arnold Schwarzenegger. Then they can inventory the damage they have done by seizing an office that just 11 months ago they proved incapable of winning in a proper election under ideal conditions.

These Schwarzenegger conservatives — now, there is an oxymoron for these times — have embraced a man who is, politically, Hollywood's culture leavened by a few paragraphs of Milton Friedman. They have given spurious plausibility to a meretricious accusation that Democrats are using to poison American politics, the charge that Florida 2000 was part of a pattern of Republican power grabs outside the regular election process.

Schwarzenegger's conservative supporters have furled the flag of "family values" while mocking their participation in the anti-Clinton sex posse. They were unoffended by Schwarzenegger's flippant assertions that only the "religiously fanatic" oppose human cloning — not just stem cell research but cloning. These faux conservatives' new hero said that only "right-wing crazies" supported the proposal on Tuesday's ballot to bar the state from collecting the racial data that fuel the racial spoils system.

Some conservatives insist that they have been not empty-headed but hardheaded: They say a Republican governor will markedly strengthen the Bush campaign in California. Perhaps. But Republican governors did not prevent Bush from losing Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania in 2000.

During the coming presidential campaign, California's Republican governor will be busy proving the fatuity of his proposal to solve California's budget crisis by cutting waste, fraud and abuse — things for which there is no constituency. In 2004 President Bush will not campaign in a California seething with resentment of spending cuts and attempted tax increases advocated by a hugely unpopular Democratic governor. Instead, Bush will campaign in a California in which the Republican governor will be illustrating the axiom that today only a Republican governor can substantially raise taxes.

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This is so because the people, in their zeal for majority rule, have mandated, through the initiative process, a two-thirds supermajority requirement for raising taxes. Which means the Republicans' legislative minority is large enough to block a Democratic governor's request for tax increases but probably is not starchy enough to resist a Republican governor's request for — Republicans believe in recycling, at least of squeamish rhetoric — "revenue enhancements."

Then again, some Republicans might resist, because their principles need not threaten what is really important — reelection. Almost all legislators of both parties represent safe seats because the political class has put an end to much of California's politics by using redistricting to protect all incumbents. This is one reason why politics has reemerged through the recall process, which allows the people to vent against their chosen representatives.

The put-upon people of California, groaning under the weight of decisions taken by California's electorate, have repeatedly taken lawmaking into their own hands through initiatives that mandate this and that allocation of resources. So an estimated — no one seems able to say for sure, which says much about the consequences of California populism — 60 percent to 80 percent of the budget is beyond the control of the governor and Legislature.

One of the new governor's two noteworthy campaign promises is that he will not cut education, which — thanks to what the public did in a 1988 initiative — is roughly 50 percent of state spending. His other venture into specificity during the campaign — a campaign in which he said, brassily and correctly, that "the public doesn't care about figures" — was his promise to promptly increase by 50 percent a deficit already at $8 billion by repealing the car tax that Davis and the legislature recently tripled.

A Washington-based Democrat who was making election eve get-out-the-vote calls to African American households in South Los Angeles knew Gray Davis would be recalled when voter after voter told her, emphatically and specifically, the precise dollar amount that the tax increase was costing him or her. The new governor should repeal it because it is unjust. And because the people deserve to get what they demand. Don't they?

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