October 9, 2003

California's De-Alignment

Christopher Hitchens once said the Washington Post is a great newspaper because you never know on which page youíll find the front-page story.

Its opinion page is also unpredictable. Today a conservative columnist boos Arnold Schwarzenegger, but a liberal columnist likes him.

Here is George Will:

[T]his exercise in "direct democracy" -- precisely what America's Founders devised institutions to prevent -- has ended with voters full of self-pity and indignationÖ.
Oh lighten up, Will. This is America. Sneering about democracy may be acceptable to a certain kind of conservative, but itís also un-American. This ainít the 18th Century, baby. So what if the Founding Fathers saw direct-democracy as ďmob rule.Ē Brilliant and radical and visionary as they were, they didnít allow us to elect our own senators, they refused the rights of women to vote at all, and they kept African slaves in their chains. They are not the final authorities on democracy. The word may make you itch, but we have progressed since then.
The odor [emphasis mine] of what some so-called conservatives were indispensable to producing will eventually arouse them from their swoons over Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In other words, citizen activism smells. It smells bad to George Will even when it defeats his crappy opponents. At least he is sincere in his loathing.
Then they can inventory the damage they have done by seizing an office that just 11 months ago they proved incapable of winning in a proper election under ideal conditions.
There is a reason conservatives canít win a proper election in California. Itís an overwhelmingly liberal state, and the local Republican Party wallows in right-wing kookery. No moderate can win the primary, so no Republican is electable.

But enough with George Will. His liberal colleague Richard Cohen gets it. Same paper, same page, same day.

As with Ronald Reagan before him [Arnold], I may abhor some of his policies but I can't help liking the guy.

This is the most valuable quality a politician can have nowadays -- sheer likability -- and it is one that Gray Davis sorely lacks. The more Davis campaigned -- and the more he pandered to his liberal base -- the more he cemented antipathy. He would have done better just staying in bed. He looked dour, a scold -- no fun. Californians canceled his show.

Indeed they did, just as I cancelled my fisking of George Will. And for the exact same reason.

I like Arnold, too. It isn't a left versus right deal. Roughly half of Californiaís Republicans voted against him, and roughly half the Democrats voted for him. Left-wing and right-wing reactionaries are united in their disgust, and the moderates of both sides are united in their support.

Richard Cohen is right. This is about personality at least as much as it's about ideas. Maybe thatís shallow, but itís also reality. The divide here is partly between those who know how to lighten up, and those who donít. Between those who have a sense of humor and cool, and those who would rather heckle and scowl and complain. Between those who support what works, and those who would rather martyr themselves on the cross again.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at October 9, 2003 7:25 PM
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