When accounting for the new political reality in California, perhaps Eugene Burdick, author of the Ninth Wave, said it best, Ignorance Plus Fear Equals Power.
According to the political science professor from UC Berkeley, who was better known for his other novels, including Fail Safe, The Ugly American, and The 480, California elections could be won by a candidate’s ability to manipulate approximately 10% of the electorate. In Burdick’s mind most voters almost always support Republican or Democratic candidates. If the swing vote could be effectively manipulated, an election could be won. This is where instilling ignorance and fear comes in.
In the past 20 years, the California Democratic Party has been successful in pushing this narrative of scaring and intimidating to win elections. This has been done in a variety of ways.
- Evil outside agitators such as Wall Street and the Koch Brothers want to take over the State.
- Anyone who dares question the Progressive Agenda is a member of the Tea Party or some other sinister cult that wants to usurp the rights of the people
- The State government needs more power and responsibility to protect the people
- Without this power the State would fall to ruin and Darth Vader and the gang would take over
Whatever tea leaves being read or flavor of Kool Aid being digested; this narrative has propelled Progressives to a Super Majority in the legislature. Assisting them in building such immense power was the unpopular administration of Bush Jr. in Washington D.C. Republicans in the Golden State have been reduced to rubble and are still on semi-life support.
The new political reality in California
With no viable opposition in California at the State level coming from the GOP, (Arnold Schwarzenegger was the last Republican to hold Statewide office) a de facto one Party government has been created under Democratic control. This is where there has been a crack in the armor of late.
Because of Proposition 14 passed in 2010, the top two candidates in a primary compete in a run-off even if they are from the same party. This how Congressman Pete Stark was defeated in 2012 by newcomer Eric Sewell. Two years later Proposition 14 reared its ugly head again in the recent Steve Glazer-Susan Bonilla Special Election contest.
In this case the so called moderate Steve Glazer won over fellow Democrat Susan Bonilla who enjoyed the support as a Union and Democratic Party endorsed candidate. When the dust settled Bonilla and her supporters felt they were jobbed because
- Glazer used the same tactics they have successfully used in marginalizing their opponents.
- Orinda’s Mayor at times sounded at more like a card carrying Republican than a liberal Democrat
- Glazer was unfaithful to the principle of following the edicts of organized labor in opposing BART strikes and proposing pension reform.
- By defining a Democrat as being synonymous with holding Progressive values, the State Democratic Central Committee has in effect changed the criteria for belonging to their organization. Apparently they do not feel Glazer, even though he is a lifelong Democrat, belongs in their club.
With their recent dominance in the legislature and electing statewide office holders, the Party has adapted if it ain’t broken why fix it philosophy. Failure to adjust their so called “big tent” so less progressive party members can fit in, has left many mainstream Democrats being left out in the cold.
Ironically, this same criticism has been leveled on the Republican side of the ledger where moderates have complained that the ultra conservatives have not accepted them as being an intricate part of their organization. Currently, the GOP under the leadership of Chairman Jim Brulte, are trying to deal with these issues in an effort to make Republican’s a more viable force in the California political scene.
Those Democrats, Republicans, and decline to stater’s, who reside where Catharine Baker won last fall, were an intricate part of the 10% plus shift that crossed party lines propelled her to victory. These same groups of voters along with others from Susan Bonilla’s own Assembly district contributed to Glazer winning an astounding 55% of the popular vote.
It wasn’t enough for Bonilla’s campaign to fill mail boxes with the same old bogeyman threats, gender equality, and women’s right to choose, and influence from outside agitators threatening to ruin it for everyone. Voters did not fall for the time honored approach of GOP bashing in labeling Glazer one of the enemy.
With this being the case, the negative campaign tactics used by Steve Maviglio that have historically worked so well in the past, need to be retooled in subsequent elections. The problem is that it is difficult to blame moderate Democrats and Republicans for the failures in State Government because neither of these entities has had any power during the last decade.
Last Saturday at my political junkie’s Curmudgeons Coffee Club, the Progressives blamed the opposition for misrepresenting them. In doing this they failed to mention their own demagogic slander that also stuffed mail boxes every day during the campaign. And then there was the excuse that this was a special election which meant the Democratic Base did not show up with no presidential ticket to support turnout.
The fact remains, base or no base showing up at the polls; Steve Glazer and Catharine Baker both from a here-to-for reliably blue county, now occupy seats in the California legislature. Tim Sbranti and Joan Buchanan are not there, while Susan Bonilla will be termed out in 19 months. The days of Party hacks playing kingmaker for determining who should occupy legislative seats have been changed at least for the immediate future.
Is this a negative development? I think not as one group of individuals (Progressive Democrats) having almost total power is not a good thing. If this were the other way and right wing Republicans were running things, I would feel the same way. Having a two party system is essential in a democracy even if it has to be factions of one branch of the party in charge competing against another.
While the 7th District race was a welcome relief from recent elections which have been mostly uncontested or with weak GOP opposition, this development does not make the Republican Party relevant again. As a matter of fact had Susan Bonilla beaten Glazer and her Assembly seat was open in yet another special election , they did not even have more than a token candidate to oppose Concord Mayor Tim Grayson and possibly Superintendant of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson’s wife Mae.
Until prominent Republicans are willing to come out of closet (we are not talking gay marriage) and declare themselves to be proud members of the GOP, we will not have a true two party system in California. Even so Progressives have been put on notice that they are going to have to do more than pledge allegiance to the Central Committee, give their undying support on all labor causes, and continue to oppose all meaningful pension reform. If this narrative is not changed, Democrats can look forward to more insurrections from within and more effective conservative opposition.
Making such subtle changes does not invalidate Eugene Burdick’s Ignorance Plus Hate Equals Power formula or that it is incumbent in surfer’s lingo to ride The Ninth Wave. In the future new tactics and approaches will need to be formulated by the Democratic Party to gain support from what is still an apathetic electorate.
A good test for this new political reality in California may come in the 2016 Senate race. Progressives trying to coronate Kamala Harris to fill Barbara Boxer’s seat may be a little premature in doing so right now. Instead of raising Labors’ red flag and riding on Hilary Clinton’s skirt, they may even have to discuss issues relevant with voters for a change.