September 18, 2003


A Cure for California (George Will, Sept. 18, 2003, Jewish World Review)

California resembles Britain in 1975, when bad government by both parties — meaning bad decisions by British voters — had brought that nation to the brink of bankruptcy. Britain was then described, as the Ottoman Empire was in its dotage, as "the sick man of Europe." California is the sick man of the Republic.

But Britain's revival was one choice away. In 1979 voters elected someone who lacked warmth but possessed a plan as radical as Britain's condition required — Margaret Thatcher, who, it was said, could not see an institution without swatting it with her handbag.

Only one California candidate, State Sen. Tom McClintock, is, like Thatcher, a "conviction politician" prepared to discipline the nanny state. He has a Thatcherite charm deficit but — perhaps these attributes are related — determination to summon California, as Thatcher summoned Britain, up from infantilism.

He has her determination to revive what she called "the vigorous virtues" — entrepreneurship, deferral of gratification, individual initiative, personal responsibility in making appetites conform to resources. Together these aptitudes can be called adulthood.

Neither Davis, a proven failure, nor the blazingly undistinguished Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, nor Arnold Schwarzenegger, an already stale novelty, seems to have a clue about how to attack California's problems. McClintock, lacking both money for ample paid media and charisma to attract sufficient unpaid media, is nevertheless as buoyant as an incurably unflamboyant person can be.

Mr. Will is an eminently erudite man, so it seems hard to believe that he doesn't realize how ineffectual a Governor McClintock would be with the combination of a Democrat-controlled legislature and his own inability to utilize the media to his own ends. Margaret Thatcher, it's helpful to remember, was chosen by her party to lead a government they controlled. All a McClintock governorship would do is humiliate him and suggest to Californians that without a Democratic governor nothing can get done.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 18, 2003 12:26 PM

A state will never be as desperate as Britain was when Thatcher was elected because the states have the nicest, richest sugar daddy of them all.

Posted by: David Cohen at September 18, 2003 1:07 PM

I like McClintock but I think the Democrats need one of their own to clean up their mess. Winning that Governorship would be a disaster for the Republicans and they don't need one right now. On the other hand, Awnold would make a good clay pigeon.

Posted by: genecis at September 18, 2003 1:34 PM

Gotta give McClintock some credit. Even though I'm sure it's not his conscious intention, he is having the effect of making sure that a Democrat will continue to be governor until 2006. If he or Schwarzenegger gets elected, the Dems will be able to do what the only thing they are good at-- turn up the volume on the permanent campaign they run whenever a Republican is in control. And in this case, they will be able to continue to use the legislature to feed that campaign with various issues they create through bad legislation (like the drivers licenses for "undocumented" people.)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at September 18, 2003 1:51 PM

I don't know about McClintock, but I suspect Arnold would be more than adequate at deflecting any blame the state Dems try to dump on him. He can attack the public unions, the leftist groups, and the Latino illegal apologists/enablers with sarcasm, irony, and just the blunt truth in a way that a professional Republican politician wouldn't dare.

Now, George Will likes heroes, and maybe he imagines McClintock as Horatio at the bridge, fending off the loony left with veto after veto. That might work for awhile, but Arnold is not stale and he is not an amateur, like Jesse Ventura. And McClintock is no Thatcher.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 18, 2003 2:48 PM

Will is in the "true conservative" camp hence his desire for McClintock. I agree with OJ that the new governor needs to be able to win over the media and stand up to the Dems. McClintock doesn't appear to be this type of person and instead one of those inside politicians who know all the ins and outs of the state govt but can't lead.
I disagree with the "Dems should keep it" meme. Waiting for someone else to fail, rather than taking on a task and succeeding, is no way to build a party

Posted by: AWW at September 18, 2003 3:09 PM

And I must agree-- I'd much rather see Gov. Schwartenegger try and fail to fix the problems than for things to get worse. Because California's problems are going to spread outside the state, and here in the Upper Left Washington, we've got enough home grown Dem mismanagment (with more on the way), we don't need what they're going to be exporting real soon now. (We got a taste of it when our electricity bills went up because Feinstein and Boxer used their pull to help out Gray.) Too often I've seen these "principled conservatives", when they get into power, turn immediately into "get-along-go-along" types who do nothing but provide cover for the Dems because they value the process over actually accomplishing anything. So when they don't cost the GOP elections outright, they end up jettisoning their principles anyhow.

From the way he's behaving, that's exactly what I would expect from a former member of the state legislature who would be running a caretaker government. I would be surprised to see him rise to the level of Gerald Ford.

I don't know if McClintock wants the governor's job specifically, or just a high visibility job. If the latter, then he'd be smart to cut a deal, now, to get Arnie and the Bush admin to support him in running against Boxer next year. If Gov. Arnie has any success, he can rightly claim to have helped the state out of a mess, and by the way, where was Senator Boxer these past few months? You can uphold a lot of principles in 6 years.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at September 18, 2003 4:46 PM

California's General Fund for FY 02/03:
(all amounts in billions)

Receipts: $69
Expenditures: $79, as follows:

Education (K-14): $31
Health & Human services: $23
Higher Education: $6
Corrections (prisons): $5
"Tax Relief": $5
Interest & Debt Service: $2
Other / Misc: $7

Where will Arnie find his $10? The recession and federal matching requirements will limit cuts to Health & Human services (AFDC, Medicaid, unemployment, etc), and he's already taken education off the table.

Posted by: James DeBenedetti at September 18, 2003 5:53 PM

Mr. DeBenedetti;

Convert primary education to vouchers and cut $2 out of that, take another $7 out of H&HS and the last $1 out of Misc. Might as well cut the $5 in "tax relief" as well - we'd be better if people knew how much tax they were really paying. Renegotiate with the state unions (like the prison guards) and you'd probably be able to squeeze another $2 out of that. It's certainly possible to generate a surplus next year on a spreadsheet. The trick will be getting legislation passed.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at September 18, 2003 7:00 PM


If you follow the formula that offers 50% of public spending per student to voucher recipients, it will be a drain on public finances until you've doubled the amount of students attending private schools - something unlikely to happen in the short term (6-12 months), given capacity constraints and parental apprehensiveness. Vouchers are a long term solution(?), not a short term one, which is why Pete Wilson eventually came out against them.

I think it's highly unlikely that anyone will be able to manage a 30% cut in health & human services in an environment of rising unemployment, rising healthcare costs, and aging citizenry - especially when much of the spending requirements are set by the Feds rather than the state.

The $5 billion of Tax Relief "expenditures" you want to remove are primarily from a reduction in car registration fees. The removal of that "expenditure" is the car tax increase you hear Arnold and many Californians complaining about.

$1B from "misc" and $2B from state workers is a 16% reduction, which many would consider harsh, though I should point out that Davis has already requested every state department to develop plans for cuts of that amount. I'd also like to point out that (until recently at least), California had fewer public employees per capita than any other state.

Finally, the Governor of California can use line item vetoes, so McClintock would not require any cooperation from the legislature to reduce spending, except in certain cases (eg, Prop 98) which would require a constitutional change, not a simple majority of the legislature.

Posted by: James DeBenedetti at September 18, 2003 7:51 PM

I know where the next Governor is going to get the money to close the shortfall. I suspect that all here know as well, despite some postings in the past, protesting that Schwarzenegger will stand by his pledges not to raise taxes.

As James points out, a major stumbling block in Cali is that voter initiatives have locked up a significant portion of the budget, and they're harder to manipulate than legislation.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at September 19, 2003 5:58 AM