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I'm not sure why anyone's surprised at the results of the California recall and election; it's been clear from before Arnold Schwarzenegger even announced his intentions to run that he was the favored candidate - at least in the eyes of the media. Furthermore, Arnold's ascension to the governorship is all too emblematic of America's position in the world today: a mediagenic, musclebound, grinning ape, regarded as utterly innocent of thought or complexity, who approaches everything as if playing a role in an "actioner" (the Varietyspeak term actionizing the noun "action" by turning it into a verb, whose "-er" ending is oddly Teutonic in this context), disdainful of wimpy "expertise" or any sort of knowledge requiring reflective thinking, blissfully secure that good things come to those who merely act, as if action, regardless of quality, possesses a sort of gravity to which good ends are inexorably attracted. (And here I thought it was impossible to elect a person even less qualified to hold office than George W. Bush.)

Of course, this is an oversimplification: by all accounts, Arnold has, if nothing else, the intelligence of shrewdness, and frankly, in a battle of wits, he'd demolish The Smirking Chimp. But few people think of him that way, instead regarding him as either A Man of the People in a Jesse Ventura mode, or simply as bearer of the sacred chalice of fame. (The unaccountably high vote tallies for a nobody named "Schwartzman," though, suggest epidemic levels of sheer idiocy.) And in many ways, that's even more disturbing: how can it be that so many people (135 or so?) imagined that they were capable of grappling with the immensely complex data-set that is the California state government, one of the largest economies in the world, without in many cases even the most rudimentary knowledge of, say, the budgetary process? (Arnold's degree in economics is a red herring: it was achieved largely through correspondence courses, and is from the academic powerhouse known as the University of Wisconsin-Superior - "Superior" being the name of the locale, not a description of the caliber of the school's education.) Probably for the same reason underlying the blase reaction to the coup whose victor still governs (if that's the word) our nation: we sense that, regardless of whose name is on the label, a committee of unelected professionals will actually run things. And here irony comes full circle: the election of an Arnold, or a Jesse Ventura, is often read as a triumph of the "outsider" versus the consummate insiders, experts, and policy wonks: yet the less expertise and experience such outsiders possess, the greater their reliance upon precisely such bureaucratic insiders, and the more they become mere figureheads, the face on the coin, the name above the marquee.

Yet the burden of democracy has long since been sloughed off by most of the population, for whom "politics" is a word uttered in tones only marginally less nasty than, say, "child molesters." I could lay the blame for this at the feet of "the media," or "consumer culture" (the difference being?), but in the realm of politics, this self-disdain is the trademark of the modern Republican Party, who've transformed themselves into a horde of positively Escheresque anti-political politicians, anti-government governors, and anti-tax spenders. The genius of this strategy is simply this: they hold a wrecking ball in suspension poised to demolish government, claim the public forced their hand in releasing the ball, and then come 'round pointing at the wreckage and saying it demonstrates what a mess government makes of things. Should anyone be uncool and gauche enough to care, such people are labeled "liberals" - who are spoken of as child molesters who also torture puppies in their spare time.

(Speaking of molestation, it's difficult to talk about Arnold's little problem there without falling into the trap last noisily set out by a particularly repressed horndog named Kenneth Starr. And if I do that, someone's going to want to compare the scorchmarks on Arnold's and Bill Clinton's zippers, and that is a task I'll leave to others. However: it's certainly the case that the Republicans have been curiously less than zealous in their usual attempts to police morality. Furthermore, as Katha Pollitt pointed out a month or so ago, just imagine the public response if a female politician had spoken so freely about a sexual past as varied as Arnold's. Worse yet, right-wing talk radio would positively explode if an African-American politician freely confessed to having participated in a "gang-bang" involving "some white girl" in the '70s...and then claimed he couldn't remember whether that was true, or that he was lying to improve his image among his cohorts. But Arnold, he's one of he gets a free pass, accompanied at most by a few embarrassed looks of chagrin and conspicuous avoidance of eye contact.)

But back to those "liberals": their problem is, they actually have a conception of democracy broad enough to go beyond mere "majority roolz." And here, the particulars of the California recall process are revealed as particularly insidious. While an incumbent can be tossed out for receiving one vote less than 50% of the ballots cast, the election portion of the recall process requires a mere plurality. Given that the recall's threshold of entry into the gubernatorial pool is so low, not only can a highly vocal minority mount a recall challenge at low cost (and such minorities typically prove capable of mobilizing anti-incumbency fanatics), but the high number of candidates tends to ensure that no one candidate will achieve a majority. It's quite possible that fewer votes can be cast for the incumbent's successor than were cast to toss him out. The will of the less-fanatic majority, as expressed in the official electoral forum, is readily denied. And not just once, but repeatedly (in theory), thereby creating a sort of tumbling chaos wherein no one can govern, since the supposed term of governing is reduced to some unknown set of probabilities; and our already dim concept of long-term planning finds its horizons even further foreshortened.

But then, such a scenario is exactly what anti-government Republicans want, with those oh-so-tired hands holding back that wrecking ball. Create chaos to demonstrate that government doesn't work, win election over the officeholder unfortunate enough to serve during that chaos, then apply the blameshifting algorithm whereby chaos is the current administration's fault if it's not Republican, and the previous administration's fault (for building up that unwieldy Big Government) if Republicans are the current incumbents. It's a thing of beauty: Republicans know that this strategy, if people buy it, all but guarantees Dems and others only single-term incumbencies, since somehow they never get blamed for the chaos. How could they, since they're against big government, and therefore by definition blameless for any problems supposedly caused by the government? In the battle of Tax and Spend vs. Don't Tax but Spend Anyway, Tax and Spend will always lose.

Because really, we're just plain stupid.

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