Jewish World Review Feb. 22, 2002/ 24 Adar I, 5763

Wesley Pruden

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As pesky as France,
but with better wine | SANTA MONICA, Calif. Not so long ago California was the mother lode of American politics, the place where both parties came to find issues, candidates and luck. Think Earl Warren, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan. Even, for one brief shining five minutes, Jerry Brown.

The only California pol with pizzazz now is Martin Sheen, the ersatz president of television's "West Wing," and his pizzazz is ersatz, too. But he's a celebrity, and celebrity is about all California has left from the glory days.

Someone here frequently observes that if California were a nation it would be as big as France (with better wine), which is only an argument for reducing France to a state. It's a good thing it's not. California would be leading the campaign against the war in Iraq, which only demonstrates that it doesn't any longer have a lot in common with everybody else.

We could return California to Mexico, except that Mexico is moving in with California, and soon there won't be anybody left in Mexico to return it to. "Mexico is an inexhaustible supply of cheap labor and cheap votes," says one Democratic pol, who naturally asks to be left unidentified. "So don't expect any politician, certainly not George W. Bush, to change anything." English is not spoken in vast stretches of Los Angeles, and last year the majority of babies born in California were born to Latino mothers, most of them Mexicans. This has skewed the politics leftward, probably permanently.

"The result is," Mark Baldassare, the director of the Public Policy Institute of California, told the New York Times not long ago, "you'll see California's electorate continue to champion a different set of priorities from the rest of the country."

If so, it merely continues the trend. Al Gore walloped George W. Bush by 12 points here in 2000, and despite the ambitions of Karl Rove and other Republican strategists any number of Democrats could probably do so again. The days when the Republicans could count on California in the way the party counts on the South today are gone with the wind. The Okies and Arkies and the transplants from Michigan and Ohio and Illinois who made this reliable Republican country are gone with the wind, too, and their children and grandchildren are outnumbered by the foreign born, and not all from south of the border. These children and grandchildren are staunch Democrats, anyway.

Nothing demonstrates the gap between California and "the East," which is everything the other side of Yuma, than what to do about Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction. "The East" worries about Iraq melting New York City, and California frets about whether North Korea could incinerate California before "the earthquake" dumps everything into the sea.

The Hollywood celebrities may not be coherent, but they're loud. President Sheen, in fact, may have more credibility as president out here than George W. Bush - not necessarily for reasons of politics but because he looks more like a president.

President Sheen introduced a television commercial yesterday in Hollywood, calling for "a virtual march on Washington" with the beep and squeal of faxes and e-mail messages replacing the thunder of marching feet, demanding peace. "Don't invade Iraq," President Sheen told his press conference, surrounded by his presidential brain trust, his "West Wing" co-stars Anjelica Huston and Janeane Garofalo and others, including Mike Farrell, a veteran of the famous M.A.S.H. outfit in the Punic Wars. "Inspections work," Mr. Sheen said. "War won't."

If anyone was skeptical that the Hollywood president knows anything about what's really going on in Iraq, he can call on intelligence gleaned from Sean Penn's famous trip to Baghdad to get the straight goods from Saddam himself. His trip to Baghdad is invariably referred to in Hollywood as "a fact-finding mission."

Miss Garofalo, presumably President Sheen's very own Condi Rice, sat down with an interviewer with the fiercely anti-war BBC ("PBS on steroids," in Andrew Sullivan's description), and demanded not to be introduced as an "actor," as actresses must be called in these P.C. precincts, but as "a member of the U.S. anti-war movement." She doesn't want to be called a celebrity, either. "It's such a divisive thing," she said. "The term 'celebrity' makes my skin crawl."

There is, of course, lots of crawl space left in California. Despite weirdness that occasionally verges into goofiness, it's still the biggest tuna in the tank, with all those electoral votes and all those millionaires ripe for plucking, eager to play politics with real politicians. California will become increasingly harder for the rest of us to live with, but living without it is no fun even to imagine.

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

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