circus billboard

Election circus?

Au contraire, mon ami

The consensus opinion across the country seems to be that the California gubernatorial recall election is a circus.

circus t-shirt logo

Full disclosure: I think this recall election is a damned waste of money California damn-well hasn't got and a perversion of representative democracy.

Granted, the circus metaphor comes easily to mind. After all there will be nearly 200 candidates on the ballot, including a purveyor of pornography, a stripper, assorted actors, malcontents, pundits, and — oh yes — professional politicians. Why, even my friend Jim considered running. Think of it: touch-screen voting machines are going to need wide-screen displays, and the punch-card ballots are going to make Florida's butterfly ballots look like child's play.

It's going to be messy, of that there's no doubt. Mud will be slung. There are sure to be court cases before and after the election on October 7th. There are going to be throngs of media everywhere. But that doesn't make it a circus.

old-time circus poster

Apart from the timing and the sheer number of candidates running for a single office, it's all been done before. Sure, some of the candidates do have unconventional backgrounds to run for political office. But then, California has had a mediocre actor as governor before. Minnesota had professional wrestler Jesse Ventura as governor. Jerry Springer toyed with running for senator from Ohio. Numerous states have had senators or governors or representatives with no further qualification than having been married to someone who died in office. And surely Florida has not faded entirely from everyone's memory.

The line between politics and entertainment was blurred long ago. The days of the Lincoln-Douglas debates are long gone. This is the age of politics by sound-bite, directed by back-stage handlers and pollsters, delivered from carefully prepared scripts.

No, this recall election is very much politics as usual.


Besides that, all this talk of circus shows a deplorable lack of imagination. As the saying goes, When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Think about it:

• This election could be a great boon to the California economy.

  • All those media types will need hotel rooms, restaurant meals, laundry service
  • All those ballots and voter information booklets will have to be prepared and printed, meaning large purchases of paper and ink, and overtime hours for printers
  • Election workers will have to be hired and trained
  • Lawyers will be needed to handle the flood of court cases sure to come
  • Limousines and rental cars and buses will be needed to ferry all these people about on the campaign trail

It all adds up to "jobs and growth"!

• This election could be a boon to Democrats in the 2004 election. The Bushies would dearly love to have Gray Davis to kick around. A struggling non-Democrat governor won't be nearly as useful. Sure, a new governor will claim that he/she "inherited all the problems" from Davis, but that whine only works so long. Intractable problems quickly become the incumbent's.

• In the event that Davis is recalled and should Arnold be his replacement, this could take some of the wind out of the sails of those who are always ranting about immigrants being such a drain on the state. It will be a little harder to make that argument with an immigrant who reported income of $26 million for 2001 sitting in the governor's chair. Hmmm. Wonder if Arnold was a legal immigrant when he came to the US and started working?

• At a time when it's almost impossible to find a candidate for president of the home owner's association or the PTA, the fact that nearly 200 people want to be governor of the 5th largest economy in the world, may herald a resurgence of civic spirit. (Or, pigs may fly.)

• This election could just be what it takes to make people see how utterly out of control California's government by initiative and referendum is. California's budget crisis is partly due to lack of will to fix it, partly due to the collapse of the internet economy, and due in large part to the fact that initiative after initiative has taken away the ability of our government leaders to control and manage the budget. The ability to throw the state into chaos for two months by organizing a recall for no better reason than that you want to and can afford it is another prime example.

Circus? Nah, just politics as usual.

circus painting