Photo by Jack GouldArnold Schwarzenegger crushed everyone Tuesday—Governor Gray Davis, Democratic Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, the Democratic Party, 134 other candidates, the right wing of the Republican Party, the Left, the media and Gloria Allred. But before Republican strategists rewrite the history of the first successful recall of a California governor, let's set the record straight: Arnold didn't so much win. In a state with a million more registered Democrats, Davis and his party killed themselves.
True to the hapless attitude they adopted during the 76-day recall campaign, Democrats and the Left are in post-election denial. They woke up Wednesday in a puddle of their own puke and blamed the bar, the bartender, the two-for-one special, their dates, the last shot of Johnny Walker Red Label. Like good alcoholics, they blamed everybody but themselves for the embarrassing failure.
In fact, you wouldn't see more frantic denials by a three-day drunk at his first court-ordered AA meeting. Democratic National Committee boss Terry McAuliffe blamed George W. Bush's policies for the loss and happily concluded that the election was merely an anti-incumbent sentiment that will bite the president next year. Delores Huerta of United Farm Workers said the race would have been "very different" if the Democrats, a party in existence since Thomas Jefferson, had "had time to organize." Multimillionaire Arianna Huffington credited Schwarzenegger's wealth, saying, "Any candidate with a lot of money can co-opt a reformer message." An exasperated Janet Clayton, editorial director of the Los Angeles Times, called the Davis defeat "misdirected anger" and attributed the outcome not to his flip-flops, policy failures and sleazy campaigning but to his oatmeal personality. Democratic activist/actor Ron Silver complained that the recall wasn't "fair" to Davis. California Democratic Party strategist Bob Mulholland, speaking as if his party still represented the masses, said "the people will give [Schwarzenegger] 100 days."
Only Peter Camejo got it right. On KPFK-FM in Los Angeles after the election, the Green Party candidate—who received about 2 percent of the vote—said how Democratic leaders had "betrayed" populist causes. "The Democratic Party is in disarray," said Camejo, whose comment drew an immediate on-air rebuke from Huerta. She bitterly told him to "focus your anger at the Republicans."
A plea to California Democrats: stop blaming the Republicans. Take responsibility. If there was any message in the staggering Schwarzenegger victory, it's that your rudderless, unprincipled party is in dire need of self-examination and reform before Bush steals the state.
Here's my advice: Grab some inspirational material—an RFK speech, an FDR biography, a copy of Al Franken's latest book. Huddle. Debate. Forget about Arnold's roaming hands. Find something meaningful to stand for that isn't massive state debt, more regressive taxes, no-bid $95 million Oracle contracts, sleazy campaigning, secret deals with Southern California Edison, tripled car-registration fees, more prisons, $13 billion in questionable if not illegal Wall Street borrowing, ridiculous pension perks for the prison guard's union in exchange for contributions, driver licenses for illegal immigrants, and candidates who react dismissively to legitimate citizen anger about state spending.
I'm not saying the Democrats are uniquely unprincipled. This is about power. And in pursuit of power, the Republican establishment is also unprincipled. The Weekly has documented the Right's readiness to cut deals with the devil—the Reverend Lou Sheldon's secret shilling for gambling interests; the local GOP's acceptance of huge contributions from Southern California's most ambitious abortion doctor; Representative Dana Rohrabacher's support of the Taliban long after its fanaticism was well documented, his quiet lobbying on behalf of local aerospace contractors that sent missile technology to China, technology now integrated into that communist nation's long-range offensive weapons. The GOP's eager embrace of "conservative" Schwarzenegger—who is pro-gay, pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-environment, pro-immigrant, pro-Kennedy, pro-gangbang—is of a piece with that amoral drive for power. But taking on the new, wildly popular governor and his veteran Republican advisers will be meaningless if Democrats are equally dishonorable.
Will the Democrats understand this?
They don't yet.
In the midst of the Democrats' election-night drubbing, there in Sacramento was Bustamante, now pathetically the state's top-ranking Democrat. Looking across a landscape of ruined political careers and smoldering wrecks of feckless campaigns, he actually smiled. "We've had a dramatic turnaround in this state," he said. "This is a great victory!"
He was talking not about the collapse of the Democratic Party, the victory of Republican pragmatism over right-wing impulse or the triumph of an actor in a field dominated by career politicians. No, he was talking about the defeat of Proposition 54, the GOP-backed initiative to keep state officials from tracking census information by race, gender and ethnicity. He said nothing about Democrat negligence and the party's need to sober up. Instead, he rambled, almost tearfully, about his faithfulness to Indian gaming enterprises. Somewhere, Iron Eyes Cody is vomiting into a sack.