If Woody Allen was right, and 80 percent of success is just showing up, then Gray Davis’ other 20 percent has cost Californians dearly. While his popularity crashes to unheard-of new lows, the state wallows in fiscal chaos. Yes, our Legislature is locked in bipartisan inertia, but we have the same confidence in it to resolve the budget woes that we would in teenage boys to avoid girls and strong spirits. No, it is the governor whom we trust to be prudent, if not wise.
In this hope, we have been savagely disappointed. The only bastions of support for this embattled governor are the usual Democratic stalwarts: some public employees, labor unions and a few Indian tribes, looking for two or three thousand more slot machines.
Ah, and yes, we can’t forget most of our columnists and editorial writers. I understand the first few groups’ allegiance, but I can’t fathom the lockstep of the Fourth Estate for a man so devoid of judgment, resolve, and basic honesty. “A modest man with much to be modest about,” is how Churchill described one of his opponents. If that were the limit of this governor’s attributes, we could consider ourselves lucky.
Where is the yearning for the California past, a place that was a beacon to immigrants, a model of reform and the home of enlightened development in higher education, highway systems, and economic infrastructure?
Men to hold great
Once we had giants in the governor’s office, men the like of the crusading district attorney, Hiram Johnson; the builder, Pat Brown; and even the likable pragmatist, Ronald Reagan. From the firebreathing progressive to the founder of the modern Democratic Party to the man responsible for the resurgence of conservatism in America – all were men we should hold great. Add the redoubtable Earl Warren. Toss in a few eccentric visionaries and a colorful buccaneer, Jerry Brown and John C. Fremont, and you have quite a list. But now poor California’s leadership is only to be deplored.
Some say Davis is not guilty of sufficient misdeeds. Well, I stand instead with those who believe that endangering the economic health of each and everyone one of us is indeed a capital offense. Once thought so clever for his foray into the Republican – burying the popular Los Angeles mayor, Richard Riordan, in an avalanche of lies and money – Davis now sees the meaning of “blowback.”
I also might suggest that selling the highest office in the state to create one of the largest and most mischievous political funds this side of Richard Nixon is a punishable act, in and of itself. Lying on the budget deficit is something that the press takes with a wink and a nod – a convenient, dangerous case of selective morality.
Let’s be clear. There are many reasons to replace Davis when all but the most bought and paid for acolytes – his praetorian guard of prison warders and lobbyists – acknowledge that he is ethically handicapped and decidedly guilty of coarsening our political discourse and weakening the very fabric of our economic health. His stewardship of our budget in its sprint to nearly $100 billion was fiscal insanity. It is surely time for such a duplicitous incompetent to go.
Some caution patience. I say that three years is an eternity. No small business or public company could countenance such a delay of needed reforms: it would be malfeasance to the extreme. The only defenses that can be mustered are that there are knaves and opportunists on the other side and, second, recalls are a risky idea. Hmmmm… – is there gambling at Rick’s Cafe? And, of course, the apparatchiks of both political parties are full of more sleazy and unscrupulous rogues than populate an Indiana Jones movie or the old Enron boardroom.
Look at the risk. We should not waste too much time worrying about the recall organizers like the car alarm magnate turned congressman, Darrell Issa. He has neither the breadth of support nor the gravitas to win. He has served a purpose and should now retire. If he fails to heed that call, a single devastating 30-second spot, with 28 of it a blaring car alarm – surely the worst sound since multiple fingers on a chalkboard or Truman Capote’s voice – will quickly do that for him. No, let us look to the future.
In our state, we are blessed with more talent and entrepreneurial skills than most continents. Perhaps the competent and ethical Dianne Feinstein, once scorned by Davis as Leona Helmsley in a series of vicious ads, will step to the front. It might be the multi-dimensional Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hollywood icon and children’s crusader. Maybe an elder statesman like the competent Leo McCarthy or a proven one, Leon Panetta, could be coerced into doing the right thing for a desperate state. Even Condi Rice surfaces in a moment of wishful thinking.
The call of duty
There are rumors of other thoughtful Republicans running in the recall but like sightings of Big Foot in our Sierra, they are never truly confirmed.
Replacing Davis will take courage and independence, but it is a worthy and justifiable task. Certainly here in a state so blessed by those virtues, there will be those who will answer the call of duty. It will take a bold journey into the unknown, a California leap. Yet faced with the drift and venality of our present situation, we must choose that leap.
At its best, it may produce another Johnson, Brown or Reagan. And its worst could surely be little worse than now. Think hard about Woody Allen’s maxim – it is not good enough to just show up in times of crisis, and lie because everyone does it in elections. We need leadership and honesty. There are some who will stick with the barely adequate and unconscionably unethical. Thankfully, most Californians believe that we can do better – and are willing to move into that brave and hopeful future.