I have been against the California recall from the get-go. I haven’t changed my mind, but I have chosen a candidate.
But first, it should be said that most of the liberal arguments against the recall are flatly absurd. As the courts have recognized from the beginning, the recall is a legitimate function of government written down in black and white like any other law. Too argue that it’s illegitimate only when your ox is being gored is too convenient by half.
Does anyone think that if Bill Simon had been elected governor in the last election Democrats would be opposed to recalling him out of principle? Many Democrats, including Gray Davis and Cruz Bustamante, have claimed that the recall is “undemocratic.” Only in a society and a political party where “democratic” has come to mean “anything I think is good” could someone believe that the recall is undemocratic.
The argument is backward. The recall is too democratic. In a democratic republic, voters decide on which politicians should make decisions. We don’t - except in rare circumstances - make the decisions ourselves.
The recall, in my opinion, undermines the accountability of voters, telling them in effect that they can have a do-over whenever they mess things up by electing the wrong guy. Well, I’m sorry. As I’ve said before, the people of California elected Gray Davis and now they must be punished.
That may sound like a joke, but it’s actually a central tenet of democracy. Politicians and parties must be held accountable for their past mistakes if they are going to be relied upon to fulfill their promises in the future. Recalling Gray Davis might teach him a lesson, but so what? Gray Davis is destined to be working at a Fotomat anyway.
It’s important that political parties be held accountable, too. California’s problems, for example, are the direct consequence of Democratic Party policies. And until Californians understand that their state’s problems are not accidental so much as logical, the liberals of the California Democratic Party will continue to run the state into the ground.
That’s why electing Arnold Schwarzenegger is probably the worst of all possible outcomes. He doesn’t stand for anything except himself. He’s a social liberal, and his few conservative positions are usually couched in inoffensive blather.
He insists that he’s opposed to giving illegal immigrants driver’s licenses not because they are, in fact, illegally in the United States, but because it would be a “security threat” to have licensed immigrant drivers who haven’t been fingerprinted. He refuses to rule out raising taxes, even though California is suffering not from a revenue shortfall but from the consequences of a spending waterfall. In all likelihood, he would make the disaster that is California a bipartisan affair.
Since I don’t have to live and raise my kid in California, the best outcome possible would be for Gray Davis to win the recall by the skin of his teeth, but only after carrying out his ongoing panderfest to the very last pander. As it is right now, Davis is signing scores of liberal bills that even he would normally oppose in order to shore up support from rent-seeking liberal interest groups.
It’s a mortifying fire sale of the fraction of integrity the man had left. But it has the advantage of making the entire Democratic Party - including such national figures as Al Gore, Bill Clinton and the presidential contenders - sign on to the Davis bandwagon.
These concessions not only make it even more difficult for Davis to fix the state’s problems, but also mean that Davis and the Democrats will own California’s problems completely. Republicans and conservatives will have no fingerprints on the problems and, come the next election, they can run untainted for the governorship and all the way down the ticket. Indeed, it’s entirely possible that should Davis stay in office, George W. Bush could actually win California in 2004.
Even though I’m against the recall, if I lived in California I would vote for the recall and try to run Gray Davis out on a rail. Why the double-standard? Because if I lived in California, I would have to vote for my immediate interests. And, besides, I never would have voted for Davis in the first place.
So if I lived there, I would absolutely vote for state Senator Tom McClintock. Not only is he a real conservative, he’s the only conservative in the race. He grasps the issues with clarity several orders of magnitude greater than Schwarzenegger. But most important, he offers what the Goldwaterites called a choice, not an echo.
If we’re going to have a recall at all, making this election a clear choice, not just between candidates but between parties, is the most important thing of all.
Jonah Goldberg is editor at large of National Review Online.