Power to the People?

Let me pose a thought experiment to you: Suppose you are a
travelling salesman and you knock on someone’s door expecting to sell them wool
socks. This person, upon seeing your socks, joyfully invites you into their
home and pays you handsomely for the socks. Still, you decide to mix it up a
little bit before next year, so you show up at their door waving cotton socks.
They slam the door in your face, claiming they’re allergic to cotton. Now, the
year is up, and you have another opportunity to sell them socks. Are you going
to try to sell them wool or cotton?

Anyone with even the barest capacity to learn from their mistakes already knows
the answer to this question: you sell the customers what they want, and if you
can, try to pawn off the bad products some other way (maybe the government will
bail you out).

However, Gov. Schwarzenegger appears to be under the
impression that after being rejected once for putting conservative ballot
measures on a California special
election ballot, the answer is now to do the same thing again.
Schwarzenegger has three things in common with Ronald Reagan: they were both governor of California, they both raised taxes during a recession,
and they both were optimists. That said, even the great exponent of
“Morning in America”
was never optimistic to the point of naivete, unlike the Governator.

And not only is the Governator repeating his mistake, but he’s potentially
undoing his success. The Los Angeles Times reports
that Schwarzenegger has decided to call another special
election (apparently the disastrous one in 2005 wasn’t enough), this time to
ask California’s people to give
his budget compromise the green light themselves
. Once again, those who had
placed tentative faith in Schwarzenegger’s ability to learn from his mistakes
seem to be forced to ask how they could have been wrong again.

Among the budget items up for vote in this special election are extended
temporary tax increases, voluntary restrictions on spending, borrowing against
the state lottery, shifting money from preschools and mentally ill facilities to
undisclosed locations and punishing elected officials for deficits. In other
words, this is a veritable grab bag of old-fashioned fiscal conservatism of the
kind Reagan, Pete Wilson and Schwarzenegger at least rhetorically endorsed. And
Schwarzenegger expects California
voters to go for it.

Excuse me, governor, but let’s recap the evidence about California
voters. California is a state
that threw your predecessor out of office and replaced him with an actor because he threatened to raise vehicle licensing fees. California
is a state that has had constitutional limits on tax increases for thirty
years. And you expect Californians to voluntarily accept “temporary” tax
hikes?

California is a state that
has 800,000 more people on welfare than the rest of the country. California
is a state where all the spending measures on the ballot passed in the last
election. Do you expect Californians to accept voluntary restrictions on
spending?

California is a state
that spends 40 percent of its budget on education. California
is a state where lawsuits come up asking for more elbow room in prisons. Now you’re expecting Californians to voluntarily forego funding for children and the
mentally ill?

On second thought, that last idea is the most absurd of the
lot. After all, California’s
legislators do have a tendency to act like children, and with this absurdly
optimistic gamble, the governor might just be exhibiting signs of cracking.
Still, one has to agree with his message — that California
should stop throwing money at these people.