Dispatch from California: You can’t always get what you Want

1 Jul

An atrocious bond rating on the edge of sinking further.  A finance department issuing IOUs instead of checks.  Double-digit unemployment.  State employees sent home because there is no money to pay them.  Schools and a majority of parks shut down.  An insulated middle class, upper class, and elite oblivious to the neediest who will suffer the most.  No solution is forthcoming and the leadership cannot and will not fix it.

Ungovernable, unfixable, and utterly broke.

Zimbabwe?  Bihar?  Burma?  No, I’m talking about the biggest state in the nation and the eighth-largest economy, the once-great state of California.  Once a prosperous middle-class land ruled by enlightened moderate politicians like Republican Governor Earl Warren, the state had the best public school system and university system in the country (and world).  After decades of decline it is now the dichotomous land of ‘hood or Hollywood while the middle class has been packing up and moving to the Mountain West and Texas for years.

It takes a lot of work to piss away a good thing, and Californians did themselves in with right-wing populist tax gimmicks and a Progressive Era constitution highjacked by special interests and bad ideas.  The worst idea combined both of these : the Golden State electorate voted for Proposition 13 which froze property tax increases at a small annual rate until resale of the property.  This decimated the once-generous tax base and leads to ludicrous situations where Warren Buffet pays more property taxes in Omaha than in Laguna Beach.  Ridiculous rules also required that budgets and taxes be made with two-third majorities.  Even the 2003 political meltdown and circus that lead to the populist recall election of Arnold Schwarzneggar failed make a dent in the long-term problems the state faced with each election bringing a new set of pols ready to kick decision time further down the road (Texas pols, please take note).

California, the original red state, houses the right-wing paradise of Orange County which gave us Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.  The modern conservative movement was born in Southern California and hated “pinkos” like Earl Warren.  They had Eisenhower “kick [him] upstairs” to the Supreme Court so they could take over the Republican Party with true believers like their hero Barry Goldwater (R-AZ).  Goldwater was famously trounced in the 1964 Lyndon Johnson landslide, but his supporters went on to deliver his fondest disciple, Ronald Reagan, to the governor’s mansion.  Reagan was not as anti-government and hawkish as the conservative nostalgists will have us believe, but his 1980 presidential election brought the rapid decline and death of the moderate and liberal Republicans to the point that Sarah Palin is now the frontrunning candidate for the GOP primary.

Californians, like Americans in general, want it all.  Good schools, parks, environment, and social services and low taxes.  California has given to America as it has taken from us: summer blockbusters and the Godfather, free speech movements and Richard Nixon, peace movements and the nuclear bomb, middle class prosperity and housing bubbles.  Pending a constitutional revolution, the Golden State has clearly lost its shine for a long time to come.

Sorry dudes, you can’t always get what you want.

Atlantic Monthly – “California Dreamers
Salon.com – “Californians are sinking themselves
The Economist – California: The ungovernable state
Salon.com –Are Californians overtaxed?

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