One of the recurring themes of this blog is that populist democracy is an affront to the republicanism of the Framers. Yeah, I know it’s not as sexy as ranting about the dangers of Calvinism, but it’s something.
The problem with political theory, at least compared to the hard sciences, is that we generally lack any concrete empirical evidence to “prove” our claims. Sure those quantitative political scientists make an attempt to turn the world of politics into a laboratory, but all they end up doing -aside from boring the snot out of the rest of us - is proving that political science is not a science like chemistry or physics.
But sometimes we luck out, and we are afforded wonderful examples that demonstrate the validity of our theories. While such examples may not definitively prove our theories in the same manner as a mathematical proof, they go a long way in helping to make our case.
So, thank you, California. No state is a better model for the sort of populist democracy that I’ve warned about. Many, if not most, of the major legislative proposals are brought to the people by way of referenda. Instead of a class of experienced legislators hammering out ideas, we get democracy by thirty second television spot. And now we have a political class so cowed by the population that they are unwilling to make any of the serious choices that could potentially guide them out of a crisis.
And so California is on the brink of bankruptcy. The actor-Governor, who won his job initially thanks to the magical gift of a recall, and who initially boasted about how he was going to change the political culture of Cal-ee-for-nee-ya, decided that actually engaging in the type of reform needed for the state might lead to a failed bid for re-election, and so he retreated. In many ways he simply went back to doing what he does best (sadly, in this case): acting. He acted like a big shot toughy, deriding his opponents, for example, as economic girlie men. Unfortunately he was the girliest of the lot.
And so now the state attempts to dig out of this budget mess with half-hearted attempts and lame gimmicks. Moreover, the governor has decided that he’s just going to punt this issue to the next regime.
Sadly, even these pathetic attempts at fixing the budget are mocked by dimwitted demagogues.
Shannon Murphy, a spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D- Los Angeles), said Wednesday: “It’s shocking that every single one of the governor’s budget moves deliberately hurt people.”
Yes, that mean governor. If only he realized that there was a way out of this budget mess that didn’t hurt anyone. Why, if they got down to business not only could they balance the budget, but they’d also be able to provide ponies and candy to all the wonderful citizens of California.
I recognize that populism is not solely to blame for this crisis, that the irresponsibility of our legislative class extends to every region. But the deterioration of our country’s most populous state should give pause to those who advocate more of the silliness.