Robert Scheer is the editor of Truthdig, where this article originally appeared. His latest book is The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America(Twelve).
All sorts of startling conclusions are being drawn about the failure of California’s ballot funding initiatives last week. Newt Gingrich hailed it as another Boston Tea Party, and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman insisted that it condemns California, one of the world’s largest economies, to banana republic status. But if it was such a big deal, how come the voter turnout was so low?
Maybe because the statewide ballot initiatives were a bit of a political practical joke played by a Republican governor and leading Democrats pretending to be dealing on a statewide basis with the consequences of a national economic crisis that can be solved only through massive federal intervention. There is no way that the people of any state will vote to increase their taxes in the midst of a deep recession, and certainly not when the funding demands seem to have little to do with solving the problem at hand. As a subheading in the ever-sober Economist magazine put it, “Voters reject a ballot they could not comprehend.”
I tried, and after reading the opposing argument in the literature supplied at my nearly empty polling station I voted for the ballot propositions that our governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, had requested. I assumed that this would help our vastly underfunded inner-city schools. Later, my son Chris, who teaches in one of those schools, told me that I might have been wrong and that the convoluted paragraphs of the all too typically obtuse California propositions could not improve matters much at all.
So, filled with doubt and guilt, I took solace in the fact that in terms of the money involved it wasn’t that big a deal, and that surely the feds, to whom we Californians send more in revenue than any other state, would bail us out as they have the banks. Heck, the entire projected California budget shortfall comes to only $21 billion, a tiny fraction of the banking bailout. Yes, only–what is $21 billion in federal loan guarantees for California to skirt bankruptcy compared with the $45 billion given to Citigroup, along with $300 billion more in guarantees for that company’s toxic paper? Or how about the $185 billion doled out to AIG? If Citigroup is too big to fail, isn’t the state of California? Does anyone seriously believe that the national economy can snap back to health if California is in the dump?