A Revolt Against Dirty Politics

Today, California voters made history. There is a previously little-known caveat of California politics called the recall, which allows the citizens of the state to effectively undo an election. This process is such a strange and potentially destabilizing thing that—while eighteen states and the District of Columbia have recall procedures—it has only been used once in United States history at the governor level before today (Governor Lynn Frazier was recalled in North Dakota in 1921).

But something got enough Californians pissed off that they got the million-or-so petition signatures required to call for a gubernatorial recall election, and today—for the first time—California recalled its governor. Not only that, but they did it by a landslide and with record turnout at the polls. The voters picked newcomer politician and longtime actor Arnold Schwarzenegger as [former] Governor Gray Davis’s replacement, and he will be sworn into office shortly (I don’t know exactly when).

I don’t really care about California’s recall election or its outcome. This is an issue for residents of that state. But, I do care what it says about the state of politics today.

Gray Davis lied to California, and that is what brought on his political doom. Once considered a shining star of the Democratic Party—thought to be a likely candidate for the 2004 or 2008 presidential campaigns—Davis made a really, really bad mistake. During his reelection campaign in 2002, he hid California’s dire fiscal situation from the public. Strategically, after he was firmly in office and the election was over, he broke the bad news.

People felt duped, and rightfully so. Had they know that the state was in such a poor financial condition, maybe they would have voted against him. Thus, we stumble on the reason he just didn’t tell anybody.

Gray Davis played a dirty political trick, and is paying the price. Not at the hands of Republicans (who Davis and his camp are quick to accuse), but at the hands of Californians in general. In a state that overwhelmingly favors the liberal Democrat side of the political spectrum, the people voted to replace their liberal Democrat governor with a moderate Republican. This is not a revolt for the Republicans, this is a revolt against dirty politics.

The continued dirty tricks that went on throughout the campaign—the shaky accusations against Schwarzenegger, the insulting of recall supporters (uh . . . most of the voters—that’s ingenious!), and the endless personal attacks—did nothing to help Gray Davis or his Democratic cohort Cruz Bustamante (the left’s preferred replacement, though they really prefer that Davis just stay in office). If anything, they solidified what may not have been quite-so-serious support for incoming Governor Schwarzenegger.

I really don’t see what Democrats are complaining about anyway. Some of Schwarzenegger’s views are so liberal that they make the Republican base cringe, some of them so conservative that they make the Democrat base cringe. Best of both worlds; everybody cringing. Can’t we all just get along?

Some will say that the recall effort in California is part of some big conspiracy (more dirty politics, they say), something like what some claim was orchestrated against President Clinton and ended in his impeachment (and, I’m sorry to say, his acquittal).

But the recall of Gray Davis is different from the impeachment of Bill Clinton for one fundamental reason: The people want it, and they had a chance to prove it in a vote. So even if the recall was initiated for less-than-noble reasons (and I’m not saying it was), you cannot argue with the outcome of a democratic election. California’s citizens—by simple majority—wanted Gray gone. That’s not dirty politics, that’s a fact. Californians are given the constitutional option (that’s the state constitution, by the way) to remove a politician from office before their term is served. That’s what they did. They justified the recall in a way that politicians themselves never could.

America as a whole never got the chance to justify—or prove invalid—the impeachment of President Clinton. There is no presidential recall procedure, except impeachment itself, and that particular function is left firmly in the hands of our elected representatives. That’s why it’s still debatable whether that whole debacle was a proper action against a perjuring president or, as some believe, a political attempt to remove a president who was very unpopular with the opposing party.

But the real point of my rant is this: What’s with all the lies, the hate, and diabolically bad behavior in politics lately? All of a sudden, every election has people throwing out half-truths or pure fabrications in shameless attempts to hurt whoever they’re up against. People will do 180 degree turnarounds of opinion if they think it’ll help them and hurt the opposite party (ie., all those Democrats who were all for a war in Iraq only a year ago then got all whiney about it as soon as it happened. Makes it look like Bush went against public opinion, when quite the opposite is what happened). People will hide the truth from the voters in a desperate attempt to hang on to their office.

I’m not going to fall into the trap of saying, “lets go back to the good old days.” Back in those supposed good old days, people wouldn’t throw insults around because a relative of the person you insulted might walk over from the other end of the Capitol Building and bust your head in with a cane (true story, look it up). I’m not sure that’s much better than what we have today.

But I like to think that our society has grown up a little. Our vice presidents don’t get themselves in trouble after killing another politician in a duel (another true story). The media doesn’t usually print pure fabrications. And so on. But why can’t politicians just be respectful toward one another? America isn’t improved by this pointless internal bickering, and every minute spent in media and other public discourse on silly personal attacks is a minute that cannot be spent debating the actual public policy issues at hand.

This isn’t about whether the Democrats or the Republicans are going to win and lose, this is about our statesmen & stateswomen behaving like, well, statesmen & stateswomen. Imagine that. This is about the voters of California making a statement by utilizing a quirk of their state law to smack down dirty politics and dirty politicians.

Representatives for both the Republican and Democrat sides should take this as a sign. We’re all adults. I think it’s time that we all start acting like it.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.