Anyone who drives down the mean streets of LA these days knows California is having hard times, the hardest times I can remember – and I’ve been a resident of this state since 1969. Windows are shuttered on once trendy Melrose. Even Rodeo Drive is putting up vacancy signs. The only businesses that look to be thriving are the medical marijuana storefronts and they may have peaked. And help does not seem to be on the way. The politicians in Sacramento are the most dysfunctional group this side of the Betty Ford Center.
In the midst of this the governorship of Arnold Schwarzenegger – on which so many had high hopes – is fading out in a cloud of banal insignificance. No one will remember what he did or even tried to do. If he’s lucky, Jim Cameron will hire him for his next movie.
Next up: apparently Jerry Brown II vs. Meg Whitman – the former governor vs. the former Ebay CEO who, in previous incarnations, wasn’t sufficiently interested in politics to vote. Does that matter? I’m not sure, but it’s not particularly inspiring. Of course Brown is even less inspiring. What’s interesting about Jerry is that he’s far more appealing as a man than he is as a leader or politician. As the former, he’s kind of a groovy guy in a seventies way – in other words, fun as a dinner companion, if a little too given to psychobabble. As a pol, despite the Governor Moonbeam rep, he was and is the most conventional of liberal Democrats, not exactly the prescription for a state that is falling apart from over-taxation and hemorrhaging businesses at something approaching the speed of light.
What California needs is a Tea Party movement of its own, but it will be difficult for the largely red state Tea Parties to translate here in the land of mass media and freeways. Maybe we need some version of high tech tea parties that run on iPhones and arugula. I don’t know exactly what that means, other than a turn of phrase, but this is the land of the turn of phrase writ large, where Apple products (made in China, of course) are labeled “designed by Apple in California,” acknowledging the state’s great creative power, the rest of the USA somehow lagging behind. California is still supposedly the land of the future where the next generation of Mamas and Papas are destined to do their dreaming. Well, if you say so, but it’s not by accident Apple itself is building its billion-dollar server farm in North Carolina, some three thousand miles from the Silicon Valley and Hollywood.
That’s how desperate things are. I know Jerry Brown isn’t the solution to that (although he might be great for an expanded medical marijuana business), but I’m not sure how great Whitman will be either. California is not Ebay. It’s the biggest state in the union and it’s suffering to such a degree it’s pulling the rest of the country down with it. Like the rest of the political class – or in her case the wannabe political class – Whitman is in need of a solid Tea Partyish push from the people themselves. It’s too late for the conventional politics of either party, in California more than anywhere. This state needs to be set free. It needs Scott Brown, not Jerry Brown.
UPDATE: A commenter correctly points out that I have overlooked State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, who is vying with Whitman for the Republican nomination. As of now, the voters have too (45% to 17%, with 38% undecided). Of course, that may change. But whatever happens, my point remains. We are in an era of anti-establishment politics – and that is needed nowhere so much as California whose political classes have been moribund for years.