Lament for California

Lately NPR has taken to some smug smirking at California’s “budet woes,” as they are usually called. I can’t find the story any more, but there was one report that ended by the reporter cracking, “only in California,” her sneer practically visible. They seem determined to suggest that our problems are caused by our own moral failings as a group of people. They are, after all, located in the east.

Then, about a few weeks ago, someone in NPR decided to let former State Assembly Speaker Willie Brown have his say (the quotes are from the audio version of the story, not the written version):

California is burdened with a two-thirds vote requirement. California is burdened with something called term limits.

Already, you have more information than almost any of their analysis pieces. Next, he makes his case.

In a democracy, it works best it works best when people get to know each other, and when in some cases, people with superior information, and knowledge on certain subject matters, are in fact looked to for advice in counsel. You don’t have any of that in Sacramento.

And then when you have the additional item of requiring two-thirds votes, you leave the tyranny of the process completely to an irresponsible third of the people, and that can be destructive, as is the case in the state of California.

Eliminate term limits, get rid of the initiatives, do something about the two-thirds [requirement], and you will not have the stalemate that you currently have in the state capital.

Of course, the interviewer doesn’t try to refute this on the merits; instead, she goes on to accuse him of being corrupt, and I have to say, his response doesn’t really assure me that he wasn’t. To which I say, who cares? There’s no way that a corrupt-but-effective speaker could have cost us more money than what the current gaggle of inexperienced morons have with their inability to agree on anything.

One thing Brown only mentioned in passing was “the intiatives,” which actually brings me back to another subject, which is my frustration at seeing my friends lament on Facebook about how Iowans are more sophisticated, because they have legalized gay marraige. They are not. Once agian, people are making a structural problem into a human weakness.

Of course, Iowans are not more “progressive” than Californians, it’s just that their system doesn’t let them take majority votes on minority rights without the political elite deciding whether they’ll be allowed to. I was ranting to an old friend the other day and he accused me of drifting towards conservatism, but this shows a political ignorance; populism can be either left- or right-wing, and the same can be said about opposition to populism (which I guess is known as elitism). When it comes to this subject, my views have indeed shifted as I’ve gotten older

Even if you still think that populism is always inherently a good thing, consider that here in California, monied elites can determine singlehandedly what ends up on the ballot due to the low bar for signature requirements). The will of the people is being bought every time some another rich person or corporation throws another ill-advised or poorly written proposition onto our already over-crowded ballot.

The sad thing is, the people just shouldn’t be allowed to directly decide some things. The fact that someone gave the people of this state the right to do so doesn’t somehow indicate a moral weakness on their part relative to the people of other states. It just means that in many states, they’re being protected from making certain bad decisions. Which isn’t, of course, to say that the politicians don’t make plenty of bad ones on their own. It’s just that that happens with or without populism!


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