In June 2002, the liberal American Prospect magazine was hailing California as a "laboratory" for Democratic policies. With "its Democratic governor, U.S. senators, state legislature and congressional delegation," author Harold Meyerson gushed, "California is the only one of the nation's 10 largest states that is uniformly under Democratic control." In the Golden State, Meyerson said, "the next New Deal is in tryouts." (Can't you just feel the tension building?)
Just a few years before that, the impresario of this adventure in Democratic governance, Gov. Gray Davis, was being touted as presidential material – which wasn't nearly as insulting a thing to say to a politician back then as it is now. Analyst Charles Cook said Davis was "a major player in the Democratic Party," with qualities that would "serve him well should Davis try to test his national ambitions." Davis' fellow Democratic governor, Gary Locke of Washington, called Davis "truly the rising star among governors across America, and among Democrats he's so highly respected as one of the new breed of moderate, centrist Democrats." The only Davis adjective he left out was "money-grubbing."
Around the time of the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, Davis was forced to announce that he would decline offers to be Al Gore's running mate. The Associated Press hailed the match-up, noting that Davis and Al Gore were "strikingly similar in background, outlook and demeanor." Perhaps their campaign slogan could have been "bland and blander."
Gore advisers cooed that "Gray would certainly be one of those names that would have to be in the mix." Both were said to be "cautious, moderate 'New Democrats.'" Both were veterans, after a fashion, of Vietnam, which would make a Gore-Davis presidential ticket the only compelling argument yet in favor of friendly fire.
California is, in fact, a perfect petri dish of Democratic policies. This is what happens when you let Democrats govern: You get a state – or as it's now known, a "job-free zone" – with a $38 billion deficit, which is larger than the budgets of 48 states. There are reports that Argentina and the Congo are sending their fiscal policy experts to Sacramento to help stabilize the situation. California's credit rating has been slashed to junk-bond status, and citizens are advised to stock up for the not-too-far-off day when cigarettes and Botox become the hard currency of choice. At this stage, we couldn't give California back to Mexico.
Democrats governed their petri dish as they always govern. They buy the votes of government workers with taxpayer-funded jobs, salaries and benefits – and then turn around and accuse the productive class of "greed" for wanting their taxes cut. This has worked so well nationally that more people in America now work for the government than work in any sort of manufacturing job.
Strictly adhering to formula in California, as the private sector was bleeding jobs and money, Gov. Davis signed off on comically generous pensions for government workers. Government employees in the Golden State earn more than the private-sector workers who pay their salaries – and that's excluding the job security, health benefits and 90 percent pension plans that come with "Irish welfare," as government jobs used to be called.
Economists refer to this backward ratio between public and private-sector salaries as "France." (Inasmuch as they are paid more and work less than private-sector employees, perhaps we could ease up on treating public schoolteachers like Mother Teresa washing the feet of the poor in Calcutta.) The public-sector unions repaid Davis with massive contributions to his re-election campaign.
Davis bought himself re-election and is now the most hated officeholder in America. The people of California are willing to plunge their state into humiliation and chaos just to get rid of him. The fact that Arianna Huffington hasn't been laughed off a stage yet is a pretty good gauge of the public's frustration with Davis.
Most touchingly, Democrats claim to be shocked at the exorbitant cost of a recall election. They were not such penny-pinchers when contemplating Enron-style pensions for school crossing guards. Nor did their fiscal conservatism kick in when Davis announced this week that he would sign legislation providing "intolerance and hatred control training" for all California schoolteachers. Yeah, this is the guy who wants another crack at straightening out the budget.
National Republicans had been enjoying watching the Democrats' petri dish disintegrate into a parasite's paradise and are reluctant to let Davis go. So there were long faces all around when the Terminator threw his hat in the ring. No longer content to play an evil robot, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger will now be running against one. Far be it from me to tell Republicans to stop enjoying the Democrats' pain, but California is about to fall into the ocean.
Either Schwarzenegger will dismantle the government employees' Versailles Palace, or California will continue to be a laboratory for failed liberal policies.