As someone whose focus in life has continuously moved towards understand process work and process change, this is a very important statement about our political process in California, and in our nation as a whole. I think this is in many ways what happens towards the end of an empire, as the strategies that used to work — namely force and the dominance of the upper class — no longer will continue to work. The progressive movement does not arise out of a vacuum — it arises out of the need for change, away from a very conservative stagnant society that no longer can economically move forward. Our economy is tied up in meaningless bank accounts, too large to be spent appropriately to create growth. As Dolly Levi said, “Money is like manure — it’s no good unless it is spread around encouraging young things to grow.” Our political process has become the same — no good at encouraging growth, it simply stinks.
We need to change it, and soon. Now.
Over the last several months, we have started to see a lot of attention at the national level devoted to this topic of the California budget crisis. And this would be pleasing to me, if it wasn’t for the minor point that all of it has been wrong. One hundred percent, no exceptions, wrong. You can start by the insistence on referring to it as a budget crisis. I’ll give you a related example. Right now we’re seeing this debate over health care, and the intensity of the town hall meetings and misinformation provided by Republicans and their allies in the health care industry. But really, none of that has to happen. With a Democratic President, and large majorities in the House and Senate, there should be no problem finding a majority that supports some form of decent legislation which includes insurance reforms and a public option to provide competition. But you have the hurdle of the filibuster in the Senate. In fact, the very undemocratic nature of the Senate itself, where the state of California and the state of Wyoming have the same representation despite one having over 70 times as many residents as the other, distorts the debate and creates abstractions from the expressed will of the people and the political will in Washington. Now, that ought to be understood as a political crisis, not a crisis over what to do about health care but a crisis about how to leap the institutional hurdles. Well, take that situation, multiply it by 10 orders of magnitude, and you start to understand the nature of the problem in California.
We have a center-left electorate and a center-right political system in which they must operate. And sure, Democrats in the state could do a much better job at negotiation and advocacy. But my contention is that this is not a problem of personality but process, and that process has created the crisis which we now face. We could elect Noam Chomsky Governor next year and still be saddled with the structural hurdles that must be jettisoned before we can even return to a baseline of sane and responsible governance in California.
And while the worst economic hole since the Great Depression certainly accelerated the problem, this is not the result of a perfect storm of factors contributing to the demise. It was a 70-year bout of rain, and at every step of the way, nobody properly challenged this slip into an ungovernable system. So it’s going to take a lot of time to restore democracy to California, just as it took so much time to take it away. But I believe that we can solve this problem in a way that can truly be a harbinger for the country at large, which is the state’s reputation. If we can really work to figure out the proper model for government that allows for the will of the people to be reflected in policy and provides the accountability for the public so they know whether or not they like the policy results, we will not only have saved California, but the whole nation. So that’s what we’ll be talking about today.