Friday, November 11, 2005

The Grey Lady* shows her true colors

The LA Times announces another opinion page shakeup. The major sackings: lefty columnist Robert Scheer and Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative cartoonist Michael Ramirez. (Nuts and bolts of the deal are here.) Scheer and Ramirez are both syndicated, so they'll be OK. Can't say the same for the Times's readers. This post by the LA Weekly's Marc Cooper nails it: The Times has decided to sanitize its op-ed pages and lose two major local voices. (Cooper's a lefty, and can't stand Ramirez's politics, but he did offer a SoCal-based vision that nationally synidicated toonists -- who don't live here -- will not replicate.) For metropolitan dailies to continue to survive (if not flourish) in the changing media market, they have to offer unique local commentary from recognizable voices. Saving a few thousand (or maybe even $100k) by using freelancers rather than staff writers is no way to build readership.

*of the West

Speaking of dumb, dumb, dumb

Arnold asks California for a mulligan, saying the special election was a mistake and vowing to a) buddy up with legislative Democrats and b) get more political advice from his spouse.

Wow. Dan Walters's rather morose take on the governor's mea culpa strikes the right tone:

The Republican governor has every reason to be contrite - not because he was wrong to challenge the status quo, but because he did it so incompetently. His measures were poorly drafted and even more poorly presented to voters, allowing his enemies to bury them and his public standing in an avalanche of misleading television ads. ... He's shifting back to the mode that marked the first eight months of his governorship, in which he repeatedly catered to lawmakers' demands in hopes that they would cooperate on his larger agenda. But it didn't work when he had a 65 percent public approval rating. It's even less likely to work now.
That's why all the happy talk about "governing from the center" is sheer folly. Arnold needed to rally conservatives and populists to his cause of reform. He didn't get enough of them -- but he got almost enough to beat back the establishment. And now he seems ready to toss his political base overboard. It makes no sense -- and 35 million Californians will be poorer because of Arnold's indecision.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Huh?

On KNBC-TV Channel 4 just now, the insufferable Sherry Bebitch Jeffe said the special election also signaled a rejection of ... George W. Bush. This was the only way voters could express their displeasure with the war, energy prices, yada, yada, yada.

I don't buy this for a second. The debate here was framed long before gas prices started soaring, back when MSM reportage on Iraq wasn't as negative as it is now. Besides, Schwarzenegger has consciously distanced himself from Bush this year, snubbing the president when he came to California for a fundraiser late last month. This election was intensely local, driven by state issues and not national concerns. If Jeffe is right, though, California voters are dumber than I thought.

UPDATE: Howard Kurtz agrees, more or less.

What journalists often fail to appreciate is that state and local races turn on state and local issues and personalities. There may be voters who would back Jerry Kilgore because Bush visited the state, but I doubt there are many of them. I had the same feeling when I saw Democrat Jon Corzine repeatedly running ads in the New Jersey governor's race with Bill Clinton singing his praises.
... Every four years, the press grabs onto the flotsam of the Jersey and Virginia races and the New York mayoral contest--boosted this year by Arnold's special election in California--and tries to interpret, infer and extrapolate what it all means . And it may not mean squat beyond the borders of those states.
It is better to look good than it is to feel good

Use the cliche you prefer about style trumping substance in California. Pundits may spin the defeat of all the reform proposals as a personal rejection of Arnold Schwarzenegger. But the state's structural problems persist, and in my view, Schwarzenegger has a freer hand to be even more recalcitrant with the Legislature. (Arnold sent signals along those lines in the closing days of the campaign when he hinted that he would not endorse a tax increase, even if the initiatives failed.) Prop 76 would have loosened the straitjacket of spending formulas that denies policymakers fiscal flexibility. Since that's kaput, Arnold can deny any new legislative spending schemes and say, "hey, my hands are tied."

UPDATE: At NRO, Arnie Steinberg offers a fairly positive take on the results and sees Schwarzenegger returning to his former, wheeler-dealer persona. (It's worth a read.) If the gov can make headway with the Dems, great. But Arnold's been burned every time he tried to negotiate with legislative leaders. Who's to say Nunez and Perata won't read the election results as a vindication of their policies, and push for tax hikes on "the rich" and even higher spending?

UPDATE, PART DEUX: Meantime, GOP consultant Dan Schnur says in 20/20 hindsight that Arnold should have reached out more to the middle by pairing his "conservative" initiatives with some centrist sweeteners. Paycheck protection + a new ban on offshore drilling? Budget reform + another daycare entitlement?

Puh-lease. Talk about muddling your message. The agenda sank for a lot of little reasons, and (as I've noted before) one big one: The Capitol establishment made this a referendum on Arnold, and the governor took the bait -- and got reeled in. Sure, it might be tougher to vilify Schwarzenegger if he offered government goodies to everyone, but how exactly would that "reform Sacramento so we can rebuild California"? Besides, a salient complaint about Arnold's agenda is that it was wonky: redrawing legislative districts; reforming the budgetary process; tweaking teacher tenure; limiting political activity by public employee unions. Paycheck protection and teacher tenure were the easiest measures to explain in a soundbite, and they weren't the linchpins to his reform package. I can't see anyone girding for battle so that we can have fairer congressional districts, no matter how much the state desperately needs them.

UPDATE, PART C: Dan Weintraub thinks the Legislature now has a freer hand to play hardball with Arnold:
Before [the special election], Schwarzenegger at least had the threat of going over their heads directly to the people. Now that option is gone, at least for the time being. Why would they take that development as a signal that it is time to compromise?

Indeed.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Conflict of Visions

Tomorrow's special election might not be "Judgment Day," as plugged by Schwarzenegger on Sunday. (The guy just can't help himself.) But it is a big deal. And it's fascinating to see how the combatants have spun this vote. The governor and his allies have pitched this election as a matter of reform -- the only way to fix the wretched processes that leave the state constantly in debt and the Capitol in hock to special interests. The other side has made it a referendum on Arnold -- a beauty contest, if you will -- even though it's conceivable that Schwarzenegger will be busy making "Trues Lie 2" in 2007 rather than agonizing over the budget deficit.

This battle over process (Arnold) vs. results (his opponents) is the theme of Thomas Sowell's A Conflict of Visions -- the book that may have most influenced my politcal thinking over the past two decades. I've previously written about Sowell's arguments here. Arnold's enemies count on Californians to have limited attention spans. Here's hoping voters show some patience and foresight.