January 20, 2006

Losing for the cause

Armed Liberal takes on an easy target, the California Republican Party. It is hard to imagine that this is the state that produced Ronald Reagan, the trends have all been towards the Democrats for some time, not due to any brilliance from the Democrats. The Republicans in this state are quite pleased to lose an election in order to remain ideologically pure. I put that question a while back to the party chairman and got that answer. They have long seen their mission to "represent conservatism" and not to "win elections." The truth is, being out-of-office is a comfortable gig. The big donors toss money your way, and you have little responsibility, you just oppose. Being in-office is hard work, especially in California, and tends to lead one into compromises and deals that upset the ideologues. "What's the point in winning", one said, "if you have to abandon your beliefs?" Why they cannot make deals in the legislature and still hold on to their beliefs I cannot say, but clearly the idea of making good policy that includes most but not all of your platform is not appealing to some folks.

The issue now is our current governor's willingness to work with people in the other party (you know, the one with the overwhelming majority.) Having blundered into victory they are eager to get back to their losing ways. Here's how Armed Liberal put it.

Here's the deal, Republicans. You've managed, in a historic accident, to elect a moderate to the governorship of California, a state where the money and concentration of votes are still in the deep blue Bay Area and core of Los Angeles. The likely candidates that will replace him are both liberals.

Either you share the Kossak's delusional belief that everyone secretly agrees with you, and that the masses, once led by your revolutionary ardor, will rise up!...or you just like getting your asses kicked.

I'm beginning to hope they do push Arnold out and he runs instead as an independent, or third party candidate. The Democrats would likely win a three-way, but Arnold could certainly out poll the loser these folks will run. Remember, this is the team that allowed Barbara Boxer into the Senate. A three-way could be nicely destabilizing. Make things interesting, that's for sure.

(And...speaking of delusional..how 'bout them House Republicans? They're going to abandon leadership and it isn't even about ideology! Just money and influence. Wow!


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Posted by Jay on January 20, 2006 at 10:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 30, 2005

A moderate Democrat and Moderate Republican meet in the middle

California politics don't always align well the national categories. The "spread" is pretty wide out here. The conservatives in this state are the real thing, the outer tips on the right wing. And the Liberals too, are present in a particularly extreme variety that defies caricature. There are dozens of smaller ideological groups, extreme libertarians, radical environmentalists, and others, all overlapping and interacting. In between these more defined positions are the majority of the voters, not drawn out to the extremes, just trying to make some sense of it all.

Governor Schwarzenegger, who ran as a moderate Republican with conservative support, has appointed, Susan Kennedy, a noted Democrat from his predecessors administration, as his new Chief of Staff.

Kennedy told reporters her views don't different that much from Schwarzenegger's, given that she is a moderate Democrat and he is a moderate Republican.

"There's not a lot of light between us," said Kennedy, who said she voted for all four of the ballot measures

In the yawning gaps between the political poles in California, centrists can find common ground. Even where there are differences in opinion on issues, a moderate Democrat and Republican will find the other to be more accepting, more reasoned, more willing to listen, than the leadership or "core group" of their own party. I'm not surprised that the Governor has made this choice. Especially since he want to win re-election.

Kennedy said that after 25 years in the political trenches for Democratic candidates, she has grown tired of partisan wars.

"This is not a time for California to hunker down behind partisan labels," Kennedy said. "The bottom line is that I believe in this man...and where he wants to take California...to get past the partisan labels and to get things done."

Predictably, the conservative door-keepers reacted angrily.

The appointment drew fierce opposition from the right wing of Schwarzenegger's party Wednesday. The Campaign for Children and Families issued a statement saying that Schwarzenegger's "left turn" had angered "pro-family, conservative voters."

These folks are, no doubt, especially unnerved because Kennedy is gay. Did I mention that she has been active in abortion rights as well. There is real risk in this move, the Governor needs to find a solid base of supporters. Conservatives helped in the recall campaign that got the job for him, but they are not a reliable base for him It remains to be seen if he can solidify the ground in the middle. From the Sacramento Bee.

"This makes Schwarzenegger a man without a country," said GOP strategist Dave Gilliard, who helped run the campaign to recall Davis. "The Democrats will never accept him or embrace him, and now he's breaking with his base. I don't understand it."

If Arnold is "a man without a country" he certainly won't be lonely. Loads of Californians are wandering in the no-mans-land between the warring factions, wondering if we will ever have candidates we can support with enthusiasm. I hear a lot of my neighbors from both parties, expressing frustration with the need to "hold one's nose" before voting in California elections. The professional mouthpieces from either party or from interests/ideology groups like to represent their people as the "core" of the state. I'm not buying it. This has been a very disappointing year for those of us who wish to see this state reformed and back on track, but I'm not ready to surrender the state to endless political warfare. There are plenty of people in the middle. Let's see if the Governor can unify a base among them.

UPDATE: Dan Weintraub seems to agree that this is a smart move.

The early speculation is that hiring Kennedy will hurt Schwarzenegger with Republican voters. I don't buy it. Most voters will never know who is in the governor's inner circle. And virtually all voters will judge Schwarzenegger on his results, not on his choice of advisers. If Kennedy helps Schwarzenegger accomplish the goals he has set for his administration, she will help him get reelected.

Dan notes that conservatives ought not to be surprised, since Schwarzenegger has always been taking advice from "real Kennedys."

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Posted by Jay on November 30, 2005 at 03:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 21, 2005

A system beyond merely "broken"

Nickie Goomba has "swiped" (it's a Goomba thing) an article by Steve Frank appearing in the California Conservative (and Steve's Site as well). The subject is the sorry state of the Los Angeles schools. According to Nickie's commenters, its not just Los Angeles. That square's with my observations as well. The "schools" in some areas of California defy the definition of the word. The Los Angeles Unified School District graduates just 50% of those attending, and many who stick around to graduate are very poorly prepared.

Here's a sample:

Early in the week, 10,000 South Central Watts residents marched because the unions would not allow a local High School to become a Charter High School--the current school has almost no one going to college because the diploma is worthless. Many "graduate" from this high school as functional illiterates, but the School Board, the puppets of the unions, question the need to allow education standards at the school.

At the same time the folks see the failures of the schools, the voters gave this bankrupt agency another $4 billion bond, after passing a $10 billion bond a couple of years ago. Of course, at least one billion of the previous bond has been wasted, corrupted or unaccountable. The bonds are needed because of crowded classrooms--crowded with illegal aliens.

This year California is instituting its first high school exit exam. According to the LA Times, 100,000 seniors statewide will not pass. Now districts wonder what to do with them? Some will issue a "Certificate of Completion" rather than a diploma. Think on that a bit. It's a certificate for having "not left". That's the sort of "Certificate" one receives in 1st grade. What are these students expected to do with these certificates?

Some of these kids may have genuinely desired an education. Indeed, some, perhaps many of those dropping-out would have stuck it out if there was a reasonable chance that they would have a chance. The system, however, offers them little beyond a Certificate of Completion, or a diploma that may not be worth much more.

Earlier this month CA voters rejected an attempt to reform this system in a small way, dunned by a blizzard of Union ads and mailings into terror that the schools were under attack from Conan himself. Voters have indicated that they care about education for the state, and have provided bonds and budget mandates. What the voters lack is the stomach to reform a system that is sinking fast. A black-hole for funds and bonds that shows successes only where teachers (note: not the union, the teachers themselves) and parent finds ways to work around the system. The great school districts in this state get significant funding and assistance directly from the parents and the community. Elsewhere parents have defied the state and the union and revamped schools.

I have a child in a California public school; a pretty good one. Making this district work is an enormous effort, What happens in other, nearby districts is very sad, and what happens in some notorious urban districts is shocking. In some towns, immigrant populations (from Asia) have pro-actively "taken over" school districts and forceably raised standards and school performance. In larger cities new private schools spring up to take in the children of Asian immigrants and families from other states, who refuse to put up with the nonsense coming from the schools authorities. The voters, on the other hand, are mysteriously unconcerned about 50% drop out rates and the like, or they are so cowed by the powers that be that they will not take a stand even in a secret ballot.

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Posted by Jay on November 21, 2005 at 09:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 10, 2005

After the election, the ritual flagellation of the moderates.

In any election, there are winners and there are losers. There is a time-honored response to both results, that the parties practice with enthusiasm. The winners trumpet the mandate they have received for immediate application of their complete ideology. They are sure that they earned votes through the purity of their ideological position despite the embarrassing compromises they were forced to make with the squishy moderates in the final weeks.

The losers, on the other hand, are certain that they lost because of their own attempts to attract moderates. "If we were only more true to our ideology", they moan," the voters would have flocked to us!" Both respond to the election by despairing of their moderating moves and bashing their centrist supporters. Supposedly, it makes the "base" feel better.

In recent years the Democrats have experienced some disappointing election nights, and have responded by blowing off their large centrist membership, the "reasonable, pro-America Democrats" like a dying star throws off its outer layers. For the star and the party, the remnant collapses into a smaller, white hot core. This week the Republicans managed to disappoint themselves at the polls, and are eager to spin the result into a denunciation of moderation. This starts by redefining "moderate" in terms more amenable to their explanation. Here's one:

"Moderation" has always been political-speak for "having it both ways." The average moderate is either not a moderate at all -- can we really peg Lincoln Chaffee and Arlen Specter as anything but men of the left? -- or a man completely devoid of any first principles. There are many things to respect in a man of conviction: but the conviction that conviction is a wrong only merits dismay. Or he is a man skilled in doublethink -- a Rudolph Giuliani, for example, who believes strongly in the protection and security of all Americans excepting those unborn. Political moderation is therefore usually something dishonest, self-contradictory, or vacuous.

I'd be shocked and insulted except I've heard it all before. It changes nothing, and tells us much more about the mindset of the speaker than the politics of political moderation.

California Conservative introduces a similar opinion in his Open Letter to Dennis Hastert and Congressional Republicans:

In politics, being a “moderate” is just another word for a leader without conviction. I expect more from the GOP.

In fact, what I hear him saying is that he expects less of the GOP. He would prefer the party to be a much simpler and smaller place, conceptually, without much thinking among the individuals. A party with one set of ideas, his.

Someone, somewhere, has created a new definition of a "conservative" and attached that to a definition of a "Republican" and pronounced it gospel. Of course, similar rules have been invented for the terms, "liberal" and "Democrat." Even if one is inclined to accept these definitions, they have a way of moving around. One day you are secure in your Republican values, and then something like the Patriot Act comes along and you are an instant apostate. The same Republicans who disagreed so strenuously with the Miers negotiation now insist that any disagreement is intolerable. Ah well, I have to disagree.

I rarely like the compromises that are forced on the party in power, but I accept the realities of compromise. In this case, I happen to approve. Besides disliking the drilling plan on environmental grounds, I really don't like the way Congress sticks an Energy Policy question into a Budget bill. If the country wants to drill in the ANWR, let's bring the issue up, debate it and vote on it. I feel the same way about nominees to the bench. Bring them up, debate and then vote. All these procedural tricks, filibusters and ways of sliding a non-germane issue into a bill are just ways to thwart the will of the people.

But, the subject of this post is whether moderates have any convictions at all. Well, I imagine that some don't, but I'll assert that there are more spineless yes-men (and yes-women) lounging comfortably in the ideologically pure camps on the "wings", then out there in the cross-fire trying to take political positions based on one's conscience. These writers make a strange assumption, that it is easy being a maverick, taking direct fire from your own party as well as the other guys. That is not how I have observed things. It must be lovely, I imagine, to be a solid rubber-stamp conservative or an exquisitely politically-correct liberals. No original thinking required; "ditto-heads" is how some describe themselves. Just read the talking points.

Alas, I've never been able to conform my mind to the ever-shifting political guidelines. But then, since I don't practice an artificial ideological purity, I don't expect it of others, including politicians. Strangely, I may be a more loyal vote for my party than the idealogical hard core. They don't seem to be very tolerant of a lapse in purity. The Anchoress, somewhat out of character it seems to me, has declared that separating the drilling in Alaska from the budget issues is cause for her to abandon the party! (In fairness, there are, perhaps, other issues that have earned her ire as well) The trouble with pandering to the extremes, besides the fact that you can lose much of the center (and hence the election), is that they can be fickle. A number of strongly conservative bloggers are now seriously questioning whether President Bush is really a conservative at all. The extreme left will do the same, finding ways to make enemies out of one's friends.

Ah well, its really very old news. For years I've heard, from the more conservative leaders of the Republican party in California (a bunch very skilled at losing elections) that they hold a moderate Republican to be much worse than a liberal Democrat. Really? A person (or a party) who cannot distinguish between someone who supports them 48 out of 50 times, and the people who fightthem 48 of 50 times, is going to find it hard to retain office. The Republican party talks "big tent" and there are many in the party who believe in it, but they have a tough time holding it together.

(As I write this, a vote on the Budget Bill, which I strongly support, btw, has been postponed. Even with the removal of the ANWR drilling provision, the leaders are a few votes short. Party discipline is never very strong when budgets are being cut, but after the stellar demonstration of party discipline around the Miers nomination, even less so. When the party cannot get its nominees in front of a committee it controls, and cannot pull out a Governorship race in a red state like Virginia, Republicans in blue states will start looking for cover.)


Posted by Jay on November 10, 2005 at 12:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 07, 2005

California legislature kills gay marriage

I know what you're thinking, "you've got that wrong!, they approved it." You're right of course, the California legislature today passed a bill defining marriage as a "social contract", in language that would allow gays to be included. This is the first time a state has passed such a law without being forced by the courts.

The reason I say they have killed it is that this act will almost certainly guarantee a constitutional amendment in the state reasserting that marriage in California is a union between a man and a woman (one of each, in fact. In California one needs to be especially clear about such things.)

For the life of me I don't understand the political strategy at work here. It looks to me like a variant on Osama's strategy, ignite a total war, and expect a miracle.

Gay couples in California are commonplace and they openly participate in the community life. Elected officials campaign with their partners, there are gay couples in church, a gay teacher at our elementary school brings his partner to school functions, its just not a big deal around here any more. I strenuously assert that this is not an "anti-gay" state. The voters have been very clear, however, that they would like to reserve the term "marriage" to refer to a traditional, heterosexual union, and that they want that distinction maintained. The distinction may be entirely irrelevant, gay couples can be given all the benefits of married heterosexual couples, but the distinction is important to the large majority of voters.

The lawmakers in Sacramento were put in a very difficult position. Californians are not, as I said, anti-gay and don't want to appear that way, and the supporters of this bill were very clear that they were willing to make this a "test-case" on civil rights. They were willing and ready to wage total war on anyone who failed to vote for their bill. There were, as you might expect, people who were equally extreme in their positions on the other side. The great mass of voters are not nearly so extreme not so ready to make this the single-issue of California politics, but they are jealous of their rights to self-govern, and this is a slap right back at the people for the passage of prop. 22.

In California we amend our constitution at the drop of a hat. The current constitution is only 130 years old (more or less) and has been amended over 500 times. Some sort of "defense of marriage" amendment will be passed without any trouble at all, not because people hate gays, but because they don't like being ignored.

Based on the local radio talk and blogs, I expect that people are getting angry...not at gays in general, but at the gay activists and leadership. They have forced this issue onto the public and demanded that it become the single-issue for the state, and in truth we have other things to think about out here. This "scorched earth" approach is not winning them support. I know too many gay people and gay couples to believe that they are a terribly oppressed people in this area. To assert that is an insult to genuinely oppressed people.

Late word in the news is that the Governor will veto. I would expect it to be upheld. The gay activists will go after him (they will have to get in line, Arnold is a popular target these days) and we'll see how the people respond. He'll defend his action the as he has in the past, that he supports gay rights but recognizes that the people have a right to see their elections respected.

Again, I'll say that I do not understand the reasoning behind this strategy, it seems suicidal. Gays have got momentum moving their way, and opinions are shifting their way rather quickly. This seems like an effort to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

(More on the "political fallout" here.)

Posted by Jay on September 7, 2005 at 11:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 07, 2005

School Choice the hard way

I've been neglecting both the Bloginators and this blog recently to focus on Bird's Eye View, but hope to remedy that soon. I did post this morning about a story from Cupertino (a Silicon Valley town) about new enforcement of residency requirements. The issue is not illegal immigrants; Cupertino is home to a very large immigrant community (and many foreign nationals) but they are the very welcome legal variety, but rather parents from nearby town who are sending their children to Cupertino schools to take advantage of the high quality education offered there. Its a sad fact that families who cannot afford private school are forced to choose between poor quality schools or faking residency in another district. More at the Bloginators post.

Tip to Interested Participant for the story.

Posted by Jay on April 7, 2005 at 01:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 04, 2005

Silicon Valley Politics

I really can't call this a "centrist" story, but it's about people who would appear to most of the country as moderates, in a confusing sort of way. This article by Churchill Club founder Rich Karlgaard in today's Opinion Journal profiles the unique politics of Silicon Valley. I would say that he has it pretty accurately. Valley politics doesn't fit into the neat boxes that most use to categorize political thought, so I guess it does relate to my idea of centrism, which is driven by a sense that the old labels are obsolete. Most astutely Karlgaard observes that the driving force in Valley culture, disruption of the old paradigm, is also the common element in Valley politics, where the incumbent is always wrong.

Silicon Valley has not changed. It's a mistake to make much of its politics. True enough, the Valley can mimic a respectable political language--if only to snag Davos invitations or to keep Washington off its back. In their souls, Valley businesspeople are wild libertarian crazies who want nothing more than to forget the Beltway even exists. The news is full of talk about the great divide between political left and right. Silicon Valley could care less. The axis that counts here is incumbent vs. disrupter.

Incumbents are the bad guys. They are Microsoft, Gray Davis, Hollywood studios, telephone companies, big pharma and Social Security. Disrupters are Google, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Napster, WiFi, biotech and personal savings accounts. Incumbents are big, slow, rude and authoritarian. Disrupters are nimble, new, cute and libertarian.

I was personally pleased to see his mention of Former California Congressman Ed Zschau, who was a personal favorite of mine. I got very involved and enthusiastic about this candidate and was seriously shaken when the State Republicans blundered away his Senate bid (Then they did it again six years later with Tom Campbell.) Perhaps my Radical Centrism is a hope that the politics of the Valley will finally get some traction.

As a bonus, here's a treat from Karlgaard's "10-point primer on Valley politics":

In Washington, Republicans are the daddy party and Democrats are the mommy party. But out here, Republicans are the hardware party and Democrats are the software party. Intel's Mr. Barrett and Cisco's John Chambers sell gadgets and vote Republican. Google's Eric Schmidt and Oracle's Larry Ellison sell vapor and vote Democrat.

There's some truth in that, although some exceptions as well. Another way to look at it. Hardware is "old money" and software is "new money."

Posted by Jay on April 4, 2005 at 11:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 17, 2005

The CA Senate does the right thing, now we wait for the Assembly

The California Senate approved the nomination of Bruce McPherson, a former member of that body, to replace Kevin Shelley as Secretary of State. There was no real debate nor should there have been any. McPherson is about as centrist as they come. He's a Republican from the very liberal area around Santa Cruz and is thought to have been one of the nicer guys n California politics (which isn't saying much, I admit, but its unusual to see Democrats saying such nice things about a Republican.)

"This is a solid appointment," said Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland. "We all know Bruce and served with him and it's unnecessary to spend too much time praising him."

Both houses of the Legislature need to vote on this nomination, so now we wait on the Assembly. There are rumors that they will make things difficult, which would be a real shame. It is one thing to resist a nomination for which there are real concerns and complaints, but already the Assembly has shot down a Schwarzenegger nominee without legitimate cause, and to do it again would be to give up any pretense of actual deliberation up there at the Capitol.

They play a purely political game up there. Qualifications are meaningless, the needs of the state are ignored, its all about us vs. them and how do we score some damage on them. Arnold has bent over backwards to send them nominees who are non-controversial, highly-qualified people with strong bi-partisan support, and the Assembly just tosses them back. Or, threatens to toss them back. We still don't know how they'll act on the McPherson nomination. Let's hope that good sense prevails and they follow the lead of the Senate and move quickly to approve this olive-branch nomination from the Governor.

Posted by Jay on March 17, 2005 at 09:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 14, 2005

This is where constitutional amendments come from

I was worried this would happen. A California court has declared that the state's law defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman is unconstitutional. I'm not anti-gay (I'm an Episcopalian, for goodness sakes, we have gay Bishops!) but I have a sense this is not going to help things at all. The general population is clearly not ready to declare a same-sex marriage the full equivalent of a traditional marriage. The time may come when the people are ready to say that, but this move is likely to push things too fast for the public and when pushed, Californians have a history of taking things into their own hands. California has amended its constitution over 500 times since 1879, and will likely do so again this fall in a special election. You can expect that a constitutional definition of marriage will be appearing before the voters shortly, if not in 2005 then 2006. That's a shame. It's likely to pass, and give impetus to similar amendments elsewhere, a genuine setback for those championing gay marriage rights. Unfortunately for them, they have allowed (or encouraged) the courts to take control of the issue, and that submerges their issue into the much longer-running battle between voters and the courts in California. They have jumped aboard the wrong bandwagon.

Many items that would be handled as statutory law in other states are constitutional issues here. For generations, Californians have felt themselves forced to take matters into their own hands in the face of a an unresponsive legislature and activist courts. This is not how its supposed to be done, but that's what we have, No one wins, really.

The judge who ruled on this case had this to say:

"It appears that no rational purpose exists for limiting marriage in this state to opposite-sex partners," Kramer wrote.

Millennia of human tradition and the desires of California's voters are rather easily brushed aside, it seems to me. The judge had a specific answer to the "tradition" argument.

"The state's protracted denial of equal protection cannot be justified simply because such constitutional violation has become traditional," Kramer wrote.

I would dicker with his use of the words "protection" and 'became", but then I'm not a lawyer and am limited to the common sense interpretation of language. It still seems, however, that a great deal of the laws we hold so dear are based either on our belief in a law-giving deity (obviously not applicable here), or on the long endorsement of human (and legal) tradition. To describe the institution of marriage as something that has "become traditional" in California is a twist of the language. California is a bit over a century and a half old; I believe that the institution of marriage predates us somewhat.

Of course there are ancient traditions of racial hatred and tribalism that we are happy to be able to put behind us, and in time this may be one of them, but to make an equivalence between gay desire for a state recognized marriage and the struggle for basic civil rights is a stretch. The state has established criteria for recognition of marriage, and the case for the gays rests on their assertion that they cannot meet those requirements (as opposed to will not.) There are plenty of state programs and benefits that are not open to me as I am a white male, and these programs are intended for minorities and women. Clearly the state is allowed to offer benefits that some citizens are unable to claim. The key word seems to be "rational". The people must establish, apparently, that their laws are rational to the satisfaction of a judge.

This is a tenuous thread on which to hang the laws of the state, no? Laws which discriminate on the basis of race or national origin can be found rational, and recognition of traditional marriage is not. All manner of atrocities have been rationalized by those committing them. Read the southern defenses of slavery in the early 19th century. For that matter, a great many laws which we never question are not particularly rational if subjected to critical analysis. We allow parents broad latitude in raising their children; is this rational or merely traditional?

If there is a vote on gay marriage I will vote for in favor. I feel it is a step in the right direction for the gay community and I'm happy that anyone is committed to marriage these days. But I do not like seeing these questions determined in courts and eventually, in a constitutional amendment. The people ought to be able to shape their own community, within the clear limits of respect for basic civil rights, and use their elected representatives to do it. If we're going to amend our constitution, I would prefer to restate what many have thought didn't need restating. Rather than an amendment that defines marriage, I would prefer an amendment that clearly defines the rights that are protected and allows other matters to be determined in the legislature or the ballot box.

Posted by Jay on March 14, 2005 at 02:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 10, 2005

Latest article up at Blue and Red

My latest article on California politics is now up at Blue and Red. The subject is the always interesting Arnold.

Posted by Jay on March 10, 2005 at 11:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack