A Pair of Rants

By Lisa Hirsch, August, 2003

The first is about the Gray Davis recall, the second about the upcoming presidential election.

Total Recall Madness

California, the Golden State, the sixth-largest economy in the world, and my residence for the past 21 years, is becoming the laughingstock of the free world, or so I imagine. Last year, our much-disliked, nominally Democratic governor Gray Davis was re-elected in a bit of a squeaker, over a right-wing businessman, Bill Simon. Davis had strategically knocked out of the race a moderate Republican, Richard Riordan, former mayor of Los Angeles, during the Republican primary campaign. I think Riordan had a pretty good chance of defeating Davis, and I would have been strongly tempted to vote for him myself.

That’s about what Davis is good for: campaigning, sticking up for Gray Davis, and fund-raising. He is great at fund-raising.

He was also the poor sap in the hot seat during the energy crisis (not his fault; the legislation was passed during the Wilson administration, though Davis didn’t do a very good job of managing the crisis or the public relations related to the crisis) and the recent economic problems; on top of that, he, like every California governor since 1978, has had to cope with the horror of Prop. 13. The more famous Prop. 13 provisions rolled back property taxes, require property to be reassessed only when sold, and limit annual property tax increases to a tiny 1%. Another provision requires a two-thirds supermajority to raise any taxes. One of the lesser-known provisions requires a supermajority of 66% just to pass the annual state budget. I think the budget has been passed late in 17 of the last 20 years or something like that. Again, not Davis’s fault that the supermajority requirement makes it nearly impossible to pass the budget even when the Democrats are the majority party in both houses. Not Davis’s fault that it’s nearly impossible to increase state revenue through tax increases.

Now, I probably dislike Gray Davis about as much as the people who are trying to recall him. I have to cop to having voted for a third-party candidate, in fact. But he was fairly elected and I’m completely opposed to the recall. It was put together by a far-right-wing congressman with big ambitions to replace Davis. (He has now withdrawn from the race.) It feels like more of the Republican hardball that put George Bush in the White House via a 500-vote “win” in Florida.

The damned recall is going to cost the state at least $70 million that it hasn’t got; it’s going to divert attention from the real problems of the state; it’s going to put all state appointive offices back on the line and disrupt the operations of the state government. The recall provisions in (I think) the state constitution might have looked like a good idea back in 1910 when they were passed, and I’m sure the initiative process, a product of the same era, looked good too. In practice…well, I hope this doesn’t happen again, and I wish the initiative process would go away.

At the moment, we’ve got a ballot the length of which is truly scary: 135 certified candidates. They range from columnist Arianna Huffington to Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante to a leftist programmer named Georgy Russell (a woman…) to…but you know, I think. Yes, we’re about to have yet another third-rate actor with no governmental experience whatsoever elected governor of California.

I hope someone out there is enjoying this spectacle. I’m certainly not. I also hope you’re a little scared, because California does tend to be a trend-setter. Ronald Reagan got his political start here and so did tax-cutting insanity, and I really wish they had not. Recall elections: are they coming to your state?

The Metro Santa Cruz has a great page of 50 Reasons Not to Vote for Arnie.

Eleven Pages (and Counting) of Reasons to Vote George Bush Out of Office

A friend asked recently, “So if one believes in a progressive agenda, we shouldn’t vote for the person we actually want to win the election?” Of course you can vote for whomever you want to vote for, and of course no one is proposing that you should be forced to vote for someone you don’t like. It seems to me that this discussion is about several larger issues: why you might want to vote for one candidate over the other, why you vote at all, and what you accomplish by voting. Voting decisions have consequences, and at different times, voting for the person you really want to win the election can be counter-productive.

I believe that all voting decisions are made strategically to a greater or lesser extent.[2] In 2000, for example, the Green Party wanted people to vote for Ralph Nader for a combination of idealistic and strategic reasons. I do not believe that anyone thought he had a chance of winning the Presidential election, although I’m certain lots of people who voted for him did so because they liked the Green Party’s platform. Some people also voted for Nader who didn’t think he’d be a good president, because he lacked the skills to deal with Congress and with the kind of political horse-trading that an effective president must engage in. The goal of the Green Party has been to win a large enough percentage of the vote to qualify for federal campaign funding for the party, a strategic goal.

On a recent Forum, I heard a caller discussing how her family and friends had quite frankly done some vote trading: in states that were firmly pro-Gore or pro-Bush, they voted for Nader; in states that were in the balance, they voted for Gore. This is illegal, I believe, but I was interested to hear some indication of how much vote trading went on during the 2000 election.

I’m viewing the 2004 presidential election as a chance to vote George Bush out of office. I think it’s worth bearing these things in mind as you decide for whom you’re going to vote in the next presidential election:

Also, while I remember hearing arguments in 2000 and more recently claiming that the Democrats are just as bad as the Republicans, I disagree, for these reasons:

I’ve created a very incomplete listing of Reasons to Vote George Bush Out of Office . I think the deeds of this administration really speak for themselves, and damn Bush and his cronies much more eloquently than I can. 

I've tried to provide at least one URL for every event documented in the list, but I know I fell short in that. I also know that I omitted a lot of really evil things done at times when I was extremely busy and not maintaining the list. I included URLs to a couple of sites, especially wage-slave.org, that are also chronicling the terrible things this administration is doing. Try these, for example:

I also would suggest reading through a bunch of Paul Krugman’s columns in the NY Times, or, closer to home, David Lazarus’s in the SF Chronicle, for excellent analysis of economic policy under the current administration. (If you do believe that the Democrats and Republicans are equally bad, can you look at my list of really bad things done by the Bush administration and honestly say things would be anywhere near this bad with a Democratic administration? Do you think they’d be creating a parallel “justice” system for accused terrorists, do you think?)

I think it’s extremely important to get progressive (often third-party) candidates onto city councils, into state houses, and into the House of Representatives. I believe it’s nearly impossible and usually counterproductive to try to elect third-party candidates to the Senate or Presidency.

For better or for worse, the U.S. election system is winner-take-all rather than proportional, and of course on top of that we have the amazing and antiquated Electoral College in play during presidential elections. This has tended to create or strengthen a two-party system and make it difficult for third parties to make much headway in national politics.[6]  (Remember: Gore won the popular vote by half a million votes, and in a fair election he would have won Florida and the Electoral College vote as well. In other democratic countries, he would have been sworn in as president, not George Bush.)

Now, I don’t know who the 2004 Democratic nominee will be. I’m hoping for Howard Dean, who is liberal to centrist, though nowhere near as far left/liberal as I wish he was. I can persuade myself without much difficulty to vote for Kerry or Edwards, either of whom would be a competent, if uninspired, President. I will gag if either Joe Lieberman or Bob Graham is the nominee because I’m not sure I can bring myself to vote for anyone from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party. [7]

But I do believe that getting George Bush out the White House and keeping him from doing even more damage are the most important political goals for 2004.[8] And a vote for a third party candidate is a vote that helps keep him in the White House.[9]

[1] Copyright Lisa Hirsch, 2003. Please contact me at sunbear@well.com for permission to circulate these essays

[2] I should say most voting decisions, I realize. I know people who will always vote for a Libertarian candidate, for example.

[3] Note the amount of important progressive legislation that passed during the Nixon administration because Nixon was willing to deal with the Democrats.

[4] Consider reading David Brock’s Blinded by the Right for inside information on how this happened.

[5] I’m a baby boomer, born in 1957.

[6] Would I welcome some kind of instance runoff system, where you rank your candidates, and when your favorite is eliminated your vote goes to the next? Darned right I would. Then it really would make sense to always vote for whomever you want, in ranked order. It would more accurately reflect voter sentiment and it would allow better organizing.

[7] Matt Austern, the most sensible person on the planet, told me last week that he was going to hold his nose, gag, and pull the lever for the Democratic candidate even if it’s Leiberman or Graham. Not only that, he says he’d find reasons to like Leiberman or Graham, and he’d talk them up as much as he could. His opinion is that the difference between liberal Democrats, centrist Democrats, and conservative Democrats is “infinitesimal” compared to the difference between any of them and the extremist right wing represented by Bush. I take his opinion very seriously about this.

[8] Okay, electronic voting machines are enormously important too.

[9] Special thanks to Matt Austern for organizational and material contributions to this essay. In fact, I quoted him directly in a few places, and he knows this. You may bust me for plagiarism if you like.