"Now that the miserable recall experience is over," is how David Broder mordantly began his Washington Post column on the grass-roots uprising that ousted Gov. Gray Davis of California.
In calling this populist uprising a "miserable" experience, Broder speaks for an elite that denounced the recall as a "circus" and "chaos." He does not speak for the people.
The people loved it. The recall was topic number one on the beaches and at the bars. Arnold Schwarzenegger drew crowds like a presidential candidate in the last days of a winning campaign. The media poured in from all over the nation and the world. Sunday talk shows and cable TV gave the recall blanket coverage. Voter interest was intense, and the turnout tremendous.
Yet Broder dismisses it all as a "misguided effort."
But why misguided? Why should voters not have the right to correct a mistake by recalling a governor who deceived them about the largest deficit in state history? Why shouldn't voters have the right to turn in a lemon they bought from a used car dealer who did not tell them it had a cracked engine block?
The voters, says Broder, were given a "rotten choice among two Democrats, Davis and Lt. Gov. Cruz M. Bustamante, both widely viewed as corrupted by campaign cash, and one Republican, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has been repeatedly accused of being a sexual predator."
But if Davis is "corrupted by campaign cash," why should voters have to abide him three more years? And why is it a "rotten choice" when the two top Democrats in state government are on the ballot along with 135 other names? Among those names were Rep. Darryl Issa, Bill Simon, the 2002 gubernatorial candidate for the GOP, Peter Ueberroth, who was hailed for his running of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, and state Sen. Tom McClintock, one of the most articulate conservatives in California.
Ueberroth dropped out. Issa and Simon endorsed Arnold because they believed California was desperately in need of a new direction and Arnold might provide it. Sen. Diane Feinstein, the most popular Democrat in the state, could have been on the ballot, but she turned down every entreaty. Whose fault is that?
What, then, is Broder's objection? It is the objection of an elite that loathes the idea of a people seizing control of their destiny through such populist measures as the initiative, referendum and recall, all the legacy of the Progressive Era of a century ago.