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Jewish World Review Oct. 10, 2003 / 14 Tishrei, 5764

Betsy Hart

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Consumer Reports

I love this democracy thing | At first, I confess, I was somewhat ambivalent about the California recall effort. I thought, let the voters sow what they reap - then maybe they'll be more careful before they cast their ballot next time. They want to vote for a thug like Gray Davis? Fine. They're stuck with him.

I worried that the recall effort was akin to a sort of mob rule, with the emotions of the moment holding sway.

But then it occurred to me: Why should the voters be held accountable, but not the politicians?

In any event, I can't help but think of Winston Churchill, who famously noted, "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those others that have been tried from time to time."

It just might be that the emotions of the moment at the hands of a free electorate are better than all the elitist posturing in the world.

Democracy is messy and unpredictable, sometimes ugly or even downright weird.

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But when the average voter believes his vote really will affect who governs him, he wants his voice heard and he tends to behave responsibly.

That's what happened in California. Polling places were mobbed on Tuesday because voters, far from being apathetic, believed that their vote mattered. They had a chance to participate in the democratic process for real.

Sure the recall effort, clearly constitutional under California law, was begun by one rich guy ticked off at Governor Davis - California Representative Darrell Issa. But it never would have steamrolled the way it did without millions of mainstream voters piling on because they were ticked, too.

There have been almost 40 attempts to recall a governor in California during the past century. And it's never worked until now. That doesn't sound like chaos to me.

I mean, California has a much better record of political stability than, say, Italy, which has had some 60 different governments since World War II.

The reason that, in the end, I don't worry about American democracy being overrun by mobs is that Americans have a stake in their system.

In a free country that believes in the rule of law and has a free economy - and yes, California is just barely hanging on to the latter - voters are pretty likely to behave responsibly. That doesn't mean they'll always vote the way I want them too, it just means that most of them won't act crazy.

It's precisely because California has become a semi-socialist elitist-run bastion that folks have awakened and said "wait a minute - I do have a stake in this system - I want to save it!"

Is Arnold Schwarzenegger going to save California? I have no idea.

I'm not at all sure I would have voted for him. (I liked the more conservative Tom McClintock.) There might even be a recall attempt against Schwarzenegger some day. Who knows? But I do know that politicians, particularly incumbents, of all political stripes are shivering in their boots and that is not a bad thing. Even those who don't, or if elected won't, face the constitutional possibility of recall realize that voters have been energized by this recall vote. The electorate and office holders have been reminded that each vote matters. This is as true for Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean as it is for George Bush. That's democracy in action, let the chips fall where they may.

And where they fell this time is pretty interesting.

By overwhelming margins, Governor Davis was recalled and Arnold Schwarzenegger elected.

The establishment was apoplectic over this one.

How dare voters take things into their own hands - "don't 'we' know better" you could almost hear them oozing? From Jesse Jackson and an array of television "talking heads," to the Los Angeles Times and the national press, to Bill Clinton and a host of Hollywood stars, one got the impression they all thought "how dare they?"

Democratic presidential hopeful Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts summed up the establishment view. As the Associated Press reports, he said, "I think (the recall drive) insults the democracy of this country, and it's wrong, and Californians should not be making a choice about which candidate ought to replace Gray Davis."

Guess what. They just did.

The voters took the election seriously, there wasn't the predicted "chaos," let the elites be darned.

Where does this leave us? It leaves California with some uncertainty but almost certainly in better hands, and the rest of us energized.

We've just seen how our votes can send a message and make a difference.

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JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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