August 21, 2003

The L.A. Times' Pathetic Op...

The L.A. Times' Pathetic Op-ed Recall Response: The California recall is a wonderful opportunity for any state journal of news and opinion to step forth and shine. Instead of doing that, the L.A. Times has decided to run two columns a week from Pete King. His grumpy inaugural effort yesterday, a sour mash of second-hand clichés, was one of the least original and inspired takes I've seen to date on what is, after all, an interesting story. Here's King's conclusion:

In the end, sadly, the recall campaign promises to be just one more contest of resumés and slogans, framed and conducted by a familiar and largely interchangeable cast of professional handlers, pollsters and speechwriters for whom the recall represents, as much as anything else, an unanticipated payday.

Viva la revolución, baby.


Posted by at August 21, 2003 12:46 AM

A cynic could say the same about any election.

Pete King is Nietzche's and Fukuyama's Last Man.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 21, 2003 01:32 AM

For one, I was glad to hear someone point out that the recall is much more bland than many think it is. Just because it's a little less boring than every other California election doesn't mean it's not boring to someone who expects more from politics.

Posted by: Garrison at August 21, 2003 08:51 AM

I think it's so amusing to watch liberals getting hot and bothered by "direct democracy" at work -- they just don't get it do they (I mean, the nature of politics). Look, every campaign is inevitably going "to be just one more contest of resumés and slogans, framed and conducted by a familiar and largely interchangeable cast of professional handlers, pollsters and speechwriters." Of course, no election need be reduced to these elements -- but they are indispensible. And if anything they have their prominence given the nature of Progressive reforms from a century ago.

And I think Glen Ellmers captures something of this in the following short piece, (something which would have made a far better addition to the LA Times's op-ed page):

Progress, Science and Nature

Suddenly everyone is talking about the Progressives--but not in the way you would expect. With the forthcoming recall election against California Governor Gray Davis, liberals are decrying with horror the tumultuousness and unpredictability of direct democracy, and singing the praises—somewhat uncharacteristically—of orderly, representative government.

Conservatives, meanwhile, have a newfound awe for their old antagonists, which has started shading into some misplaced hyperbole. "California owes a colossal debt to… Hiram Johnson. He was the governor who put a recall provision in the state constitution in 1911," writes Fred Barnes in the current Weekly Standard.

Though surprising on the surface, neither of these reactions is entirely new, at least in California. The recall is only a more extreme case of what conservatives here have been doing for decades: turning the Progressives' direct democracy measures, like the initiative process, against the administrative state. And whatever populist nostrums they may regurgitate on the campaign trail, California's liberals have opposed all the most far-reaching and important ballot propositions, from Prop.13's cap on property taxes, to 209's repudiation of race preferences.

What both sides fail to appreciate fully is that California's fractured, dysfunctional government--which conservatives keep trying rein in through initiatives and now the recall--is itself one of the legacies of Progressivism. We may thank Hiram Johnson for giving us a cure (of sorts) for what's gone wrong in Sacramento, but we should also remember that he had a lot to do with spreading the disease in the first place. More importantly, few understand adequately how the Progressives' instrumental innovations derive from a theoretical understanding of government and human nature that stands foursquare against the constitutional republicanism of America's Founding Fathers.

To explore what all of that means, the Claremont Institute will be sponsoring nine panels on "Progressivism and its Legacy" at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in Philadelphia next week. At the same meeting, our friends at The American Public Philosophy Institute will be addressing a very different, though not unrelated, question. As the Progressives sought to use social science to perfect or remake human nature in the political realm, modern biomedical research pursues a similar dubious effort through genetic manipulation. This vast and vital topic will be the subject of a debate between the distinguished political philosophers Robert George and Michael Sandel, "The Ethics of Cloning and Stem-Cell Research: The Embryo and Human Dignity," on Saturday morning.

Specific information on the panel locations will not, unfortunately, be available until the meeting begins. But visit to learn more about these and other panels.

This article is archived at

Posted by: Robert at August 21, 2003 12:40 PM

Unfortunately, King is right. It would be one thing if Larry Flynt had a chance, or even a wingnut like Tom McClintock: that would be a sign that the people really did want a change from the status quo. People like A.S., Arianna, and Ueberroth are a dime a dozen in California politics, where multi-millionaires seem to emerge every four years in elections, portraying themselves as "outsiders" who can challenge the "career politicians" to get things done. It's an old act. Once the recall qualified for the ballot, the historical nature of this story ended, and it became just another election.

The only compelling story at this point is whether Davis can stage a miraculous, Game 6 bottom-of-the-seventh-inning rally, or if Bustamante can become the first Latino to be elected governor of California. Or if Larry Flynt wins.

Posted by: Steve Smith at August 21, 2003 02:03 PM

I give you Robert's post above as Exhibit A demonstrating that this election is BORING.

Posted by: garrison at August 21, 2003 03:24 PM

I read the LA Times cover to cover on Tuesday for the first time in years because I had a doctor's office wiait. What a horrid paper, and the opion page was worse than you say. Sheer howling about Prop 13, they published letters from people who wanted their property taxes raised, and the aforementioned King piece. It's a bad paper.

As for the election: best fun we've had in years. Not the same old stuff. Arnold's press conference made it clear that the California Comedy Hour is over. He is a serious player with serious people around him. Those of you who think this election isn't important better consider the default of California bonds that might happen. Most hospitals closed, half the health care workers in the state without paychecks; ditto the teachers; fire, police, and much water and power. The political establishment, Republican and Democrat, has sold us out to state workers unions, gaming interests, trial lawyers, and environmentalists all of whom would like to end capitalism, not solve the problems of the state.

Larry Flynt has a right to run; ditto the porn queen and everybody else. Who the hell is anyone to put them down? At least they got off their dead asses and filed. This country was started by people not good enough. BTW the porn queen wants to put everybody that is unemployed on jury duty thereby saving the state all that money; not a bad idea.

This is exciting. This is what Hiram Johnson had in mind. It's called democracy.

Posted by: Howard Veit at August 21, 2003 04:33 PM

If only that column had anything in common with sour mash! It would have gone down a lot easier.

Posted by: Tony Biasotti at August 21, 2003 04:51 PM

Some how I'm not too surprised by this. Overall, the Sac Bee guys (Weintraub and Walters) are doing a far better job than just about anybody else.

Posted by: Kurt at August 21, 2003 05:04 PM

You know the L.A. Times is pathetic when they ask you to; register, reset the cookies on your browser, and possibly change your firewall or browser security settings in order to log in and read the story.
Didn't read the story because I refuse to go through, and am resentful of, those snail paced hoops of registration in an otherwise fast paced electronic medium (Google News is able to somehow circumvent this registration process, wish the bloggers could do the same). Also Matt, your excerpt was enough to convince me that the piece was not a worthwhile read as I too feel the recall is an interesting story that merits mountains of attention.
What is most fascinating to me about the recall (and seems to be getting very little coverage), is how it integrates with other events in other places that all add up to an increased and over the top extreme effort by the power mongers in our midst to strangle all opposition and take control of government. I would like to see more connect the dots writing about; the Cal recall, the redistricting power play in Texas currently going on, the past Bush 'election', America's overly aggressive actions in the Middle East, etc.
When one considers the big picture there is undeniably something beyond the norm going on. There IS a more aggressive, corrupt, and militaristic factor in America that is not being brought into clear focus by mainstream media.
Or are these all simply random and non related events?

Posted by: Warren Celli at August 22, 2003 05:48 AM

Kurt et al, the SacBee guys have been better than the LA Times, but their analyses haven't exactly been earth-shattering, either. Weintraub's getting a ton of press, which is understandable since he's in the Capitol, and his blog allows him to break news throughout the day.

But his latest column is a perfect example of why I've linked to him maybe only a couple times in the past two months:

Schwarzenegger displayed leadership abilities Wednesday, or at least major league communications skills. He was focused, prepared and in command, quick and at times witty. It would be easy to imagine him in the governor's office, wooing Democrats and Republicans alike with his charm while threatening to go over their heads to the people if they refused to go along with his program.

But for now, Californians are being asked to simply trust him....I recognize that he was giving his reaction to Arnold's most recent press conference, and we need first-hand accounts of such events. But this is supposed to be an authoritative column with strong analyses and incisive observations. Frankly, the piece falls short of the high standards to which we should be holding these experts.

For example, Weintraub doesn't even entertain the possibility that Arnold could be saving the more substantive portions of his campaign for the debates, in order to maximize the effect of his arguments, as he maximized the effect of his surprise declaration of candidacy on Leno. Or that Arnold could be holding off on the substance to prevent attacks on what is arguably his biggest weak spot. Or that Arnold's campaign might be taking advantage of all the attention being paid to his lack of substance, because it distracts the media from looking into his womanizing and scandals.

I'm not saying that these are all correct. But goodness, is it a crime to expect our columnists to give us more than just "he was focused, prepared and in command" to think about?

Sorry for the rant, Matt. You know how I feel about this stuff, though.

Posted by: Robert Tagorda at August 22, 2003 10:28 AM

"People like A.S., Arianna, and Ueberroth are a dime a dozen in California politics, where multi-millionaires seem to emerge every four years in elections, portraying themselves as "outsiders" who can challenge the "career politicians" to get things done."

Of course, the difference is that this time one might win, as opposed to Arianna's Sock Puppet and Al "I spent forty million dollars to run for Governor of California and all I got was this lousy T-Shirt" Checchi.

Posted by: M. Scott Eiland at August 22, 2003 04:14 PM

Hey. Let's do it right. Let's make everyone who wants to run for any office present themselves to a "council of political elders" (self-selected, of course, pundits, party old-timers, campaing managers and so on) and justify their existence on the ballot. No more of that riff-raff we've had in the past. Hell no!! Who would better know what kind of government we should have, the people or the political elite (self-selected, of course)? What do these low-brow proles think we fought a Revolution, and a Civil War, and a civil rights crusade for, anyway, the right to vote for whomever we might want? Oh. Uh, . . .

"Never mind." (Emily Litella)

Posted by: JorgXMcKie at August 24, 2003 08:50 AM
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