JULY 6, 2021
Meyerson on TAP
California’s Recalls and Voters Themselves
Some years ago, the Los Angeles Times went Safire Fishing.

The above term refers to the New York Times op-ed columnist William Safire, whom, in 1973, the Times hired away from the Nixon administration, where he’d been a speechwriter for Nixon and his vice president, Spiro Agnew. Safire was certainly a lively writer, but his hiring was largely the result of the generally liberal Times deciding it needed one conservative columnist to provide ideological or, at least, political balance, particularly since Nixon had just carried 49 states in his 1972 re-election. Lively writer though he may have been, Safire also contributed greatly to the fake news that made the case for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, penning repeated columns in which he reported on Saddam Hussein’s ties to al-Qaeda, none of which actually existed.

The Gray Lady isn’t the only paper, of course, that’s made a Safiresque hire for reasons of political balance. More than a decade ago, the L.A. Times, which boasted excellent liberal editorial pages under the direction of Nick Goldberg and Sue Horton, hired Jonah Goldberg (no relation to Nick), a longtime National Review editor whose right-wing polemics were occasionally semi-offset by his wit, to be its own Safire.

Like many neocons, Goldberg has been a Never Trumper, which led to his departure from National Review. But honorable right-wingers, like honorable left-wingers but usually more so, can still write excruciatingly silly stuff, and this week’s installment of his regular Tuesday Times column fits that description to a T. In it, Goldberg reflects on the impending (September 14) recall election of California Gov. Gavin Newsom. He’s against recalls in principle, he writes, but that of Newsom is at least giving him pause.

Why the pause? Because, Goldberg writes, “California’s problems—homelessness, crime, tax-flight, etc.—are largely the result of years of one-party [i.e., Democratic] rule.” It’s certainly true that Democrats have won every statewide election since 2006, and hold three-quarters of the seats in each house of the state legislature and 42 of the state’s 53 U.S. House districts. Goldberg still isn’t entirely sold on the recall’s merits, but as an antidote to one-party rule, he writes, “having the voters themselves serve as a counterweight to one party rule seems preferable.”

At the necessary risk of stating the obvious, however, homelessness and crime are rising everywhere, including states where Republicans govern, and it’s the progressives in the California legislature who have put forth the only plausible affordable-housing proposals. Nor is there any evidence that taxes are causing Californians to flee; to the extent that there are relocations, most are in-state and almost all are the result of housing costs, not tax rates.

As for the case that the recall lets “voters themselves” reject Newsom, I have it on good authority that it was voters themselves who elected Newsom governor in 2018, with 62 percent of the vote, in an election in which millions more Californians voted than will vote in this September’s recall (which Newsom will surely survive). Goldberg writes that his affinity for direct democracy is rooted in the outcome of several California ballot measures in 2020, which included the successful Uber- and Lyft-backed proposition to overturn a new law that would have required the companies to treat their drivers as employees, and thereby covered by minimum-wage laws and the like. The problem with this kind of “direct democracy” is that success at the ballot box is often directly determined by money. Uber, Lyft, and their ilk dropped a cool $200 million on their campaign, which led many Yes voters erroneously to think they were voting to raise the drivers’ incomes.

Thing is, it’s the voters themselves who’ve made California an overwhelmingly Democratic state. Neither a recall nor a recount will change that.

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