Californians, accustomed to getting their way, demanded a "do-over" when they held their recall. The problem with do-overs, as any grade school teacher will tell you, is the moral hazard they create. They diffuse responsibility and make it that much more difficult for people to understand that this test counts and if you fail, you'll have to work twice as hard to make up for it next time.
Like lifting the lid before the pot boils, by throwing out Davis prematurely, clear political responsibility evaporated. Schwarzenegger rode high enough in the polls long enough that now whatever problems the state has can be laid at his feet. He can't talk about inheriting problems any more. This is a calamity, because the Democratic Party has been, in effect, let off the hook for the problems it helped to create.
California is doing better now, in part because of Schwarzenegger and in part because the economy has rebounded since 2003. But it still suffers from immense structural problems that reveal themselves every time the economic high tides recede.
Those structural problems are the result of decades of liberal and Democratic mismanagement and the bungling of a State GOP that can't break the circular formation of its firing squads. But California's woes are also the result of the fact that Californians are Proposition-happy, believing that "the people" can vote their outrage and solve their problems that way.
It was this attitude that put Schwarzenegger in office prematurely and it is this attitude that Schwarzenegger has been trying to exploit. Incapable of working with the state legislature any longer, in January he rolled out his agenda "to the people" in four ballot initiatives, two of which have already disappeared. One, on pension reform, he had to remove himself because it was incompetently written. A second, on redistricting, was recently struck down by a judge for technical reasons.
I'm sympathetic to the substance of Schwarzenegger's agenda. But the last thing California needs is more populism. What it needs are strong, competitive political parties, run by people who are held accountable for their actions, not overruled by special elections and referenda every time things go south.
Ultimately, the real culprits are Californians themselves. They don't want responsible leaders so they don't get them. Golden Staters would do well to remember their Shakespeare. The fault lies not in the movie star, dear Californians, but in yourselves.
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