California Recall: The Coup Inside the Circus

From our correspondent in the San Francisco Bay Area

Revolutionary Worker #1213, September 21, 2003, posted at

On October 7 a recall election in California will decide whether Gray Davis will remain governor or whether he will be replaced by one of 135 candidates. The list of replacement candidates includes front- runner Arnold Schwarzenegger (best known for his portrayal in The Terminator ); Gallagher, a comic who likes to smash watermelons; and Hustler publisher Larry Flint.

The circus atmosphere surrounding the recall has been a boon to late night television comedians. "I'll tell you where this recall is really causing problems--over at Hollywood Squares ," quipped Jay Leno. "There are so many B and C level celebrities running for governor, they had to shut down production."

However, behind the circus is a serious and sinister grab for power. Drawing a comparison to the efforts to impeach Clinton in 1998, Davis has called the recall the result of a "right-wing conspiracy." And he is right.

Anatomy of a Power Grab

Davis won reelection in November 2002 by a significant margin. The recall began less than 100 days later. Those sponsoring the recall claim that the reason for the recall is that Davis lied about the size of the California budget deficit and about raising new taxes when he was running for reelection. They also claim that Davis mismanaged the California energy crisis.

If politicians were going to be brought down for lying about budget deficits and new taxes then George W. (with his $400 billion/$500 billion 2004 deficit) or Papa Bush (with his "read my lips, no new taxes") would have been the first to go.

California is facing severe financial problems. It has a huge deficit of $30 billion. Unemployment is high. And there was the California energy crisis. While an analysis of the California economy is beyond the scope of this article, several points stand out. First, California's economic problems are not specific to the Golden State. Both Texas and New York, with Republican governors, have similar budget shortfalls.

Second, there's more than a little hypocrisy in pinning the blame for the energy crisis on Davis. It was both the Democrats and Republicans who unanimously passed the legislation that deregulated California's energy market. It's a safe bet that recall supporters won't be bringing up Vice-President Cheney's secret meetings with top energy executives to formulate national energy policy. And it was the Bush-dominated Federal Regulatory Energy Commission that refused to force the energy pirates to properly compensate California for creating artificial energy shortages. (See "Who Turned Out the Lights in California?, Free market madness and the energy crisis," RW #1089, February 4, 2001.)

The recall was initiated by a far-right group calling itself "People's Advocate" --which is best known as the sponsor of the Proposition 13 "taxpayers revolt" in the 1970s and which has been involved in a number of reactionary electoral efforts, including initiatives to make English California's official language and to put more people in jail with longer sentences.

The recall really took off when Darrell Issa, a right-wing multi-millionaire Republican from San Diego, pumped in $1.7 million. Issa is the guy who developed the automobile alarm. You know those cars that say "back-off" when you brush up against them? Well, that's Issa's voice telling you to back off. Issa had initially had hopes of running for governor himself but backed out after Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy.

Under the California constitution, by gathering a large number of signatures it is possible to recall a governor or place a measure on the ballot. Ballot initiatives have played a major role in California politics over the last 25 years. While they are often thought of as a way the people can assert control over the political system, the reality is that it requires a huge amount of money to qualify an initiative for the ballot, and the initiative process has mainly been a tool of the system--letting the power structure put through some outrageous measures and then say it is the "people's will."

And even when some progressive measures get approved by initiative, like medical marijuana or the rolling back of car insurance premiums, we have seen the courts trample on whatever the people have voted for.

Since California's recall procedure was established in 1911, not one governor has ever been recalled by this mechanism. At bottom, the use of the recall against Davis, like the use of impeachment against Clinton, represents a change in the rules by which American politics is played by the ruling class.

The Irony of Gray Davis: "With Friends Like This..."

Davis has put forward a pretty reactionary agenda himself. He is what used to be called a conservative democrat (pro-death penalty, pro-prison, etc.). Yet, today right-wing talk-show hosts refer to him as "Red" Davis.

Under Davis, California ranks No. 1 in the nation in prison spending but 41st in education spending. Since 1980, the state has built 23 new prisons, but only one new university. Under Davis' budget, prison guards will make an average of $73,000 per year in 2006. Davis has made it a principle to never give parole to anyone who has been convicted of murder, refusing to parole even women who have served long terms for killing abusive partners. And he's continued to use the California gas chamber.

Davis has pushed to slash state spending--especially in programs that help the poor. Under the budget signed by Davis in August, primary and secondary education will lose $2 billion. It is estimated that 3,000 teachers will be laid off statewide. Funding for childcare is being cut. The University of California and the State University system are being forced to raise tuition 25 to 30%. Thousands of qualified applicants will be turned away. Community colleges are being forced to make drastic cuts while raising fees over 60%. Healthcare is also facing drastic cuts, including measures to force many poor people off MediCal.

So, what the hell is going on when someone like Davis is "too far to the left"?

California: Out of Goosestep

To understand what's going on in California, we have to look at the bigger picture-- and the role of the 2004 election in relation to U.S. ruling class politics.

The U.S. ruling class has embarked on a global "war on terror" which aims to recast the whole structure of international relations--beginning with an aggressive plan to bring the oil-rich Middle East and South Asia more directly under U.S. domination and control. This is a strategy that has significant risks for them, as we see unfolding now in Iraq. Within the ruling class, while the Democrats have been totally craven in going along with the whole Bush program, they are positioning themselves as the loyal opposition--in case the Bush agenda runs into big trouble. And, increasingly, the Bush administration wants and needs an atmosphere where even the dissent of a loyal opposition is not tolerated. More and more the Bush administration is casting things both domestically and internationally as "you're either for us or against us."

In some ways, California has been out of goosestep with this new America. In the Bay Area, for example, it is much more common to see anti-war stickers than American flags on cars. Demonstrations in San Francisco shut down the city when the war started, sending an inspiring call to the people of the world.

The recall aims to recast things on the "left coast" and bring them more into line with the Bush agenda. The strategy is to appeal to narrow selfish interests of the middle class and the "libertarian" impulses of a section of conservative voters on the issues of "big govern- ment"--taxes, crime and immigration.

The mantra of all the Republican candidates in the recall has been to lower taxes and to cut spending. The proposals that the Republicans are putting forward amount to an all-out declaration of war on poor people, on education, on health care and the environment. For example, during the recent budget fight in Sacramento, the Republicans tried delaying kindergarten for 100,000 and taking away health coverage for 400,000 children.

In some recent writings RCP Chairman Bob Avakian speaks to some of the ways that the issue of big government and "the taxpayer" are used to promote a racist and reactionary agenda:

"What's wrong with big government? There is, in fact, from the standpoint of the class- conscious proletariat, a big problem with big government in this society--it is a big dictatorship of the bourgeoisie representing the interests of imperialism and it fucks over people, including the middle strata, in a lot of ways. But again, here you have a truth that is taken by these right-wing demagogues and distorted and woven in with lies and appeals to prejudices and reactionary or backward thinking and outlooks that spontaneously arise among certain sections of the middle strata in particular. And one of the biggest assaults these demagogues make on big government is that it has been responsible for carrying out things like affirmative action and concessionary programs to the poor and to working class people (the "social safety net," and so on); and the icon is raised of the "taxpayer" -- one of the ways this is put out is that "all this is at the expense of the taxpayer." This is one of the things we have to take on--this whole larger-than-life being called the "taxpayer." ("Being Eminently Reasonable--And Completely Outrageous: Speaking and Writing--With Masses of People in Mind," RW #1176, November 24, 2002)

As part of the recall, a racist anti-immigrant hysteria is also being whipped up. Davis is being attacked for signing a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to get drivers licenses. Davis, who refused to sign similar legislation in the past, is being accused of "pandering to immigrants." Recall supporters are saying ridiculous things like now undocumented immigrants will illegally vote and that terrorists will be using this to infiltrate California. And Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante, the major Democrat in the recall, is being attacked because he belonged to MEChA as a student. Recall supporters attack MEChA, a mainstream Chicano student group, as racist and have even compared it to the KKK.

Elections ...and Rolling Coups

To say that this [the 2000 election] is a coup d'etat at this point is to overstate things, but it is accurate, and important, to note that there are significant aspects of a kind of "rolling coup," that is a situation where certain forces which are very closely linked in with the top echelons of the military are increasingly bringing power unto themselves..."

Bob Avakian, "The New Situation and the Great Challenges," RW #1143, March 17, 2002

"I'm beginning to think that the Republicans will do anything to win an election - except get the most votes."

Comedian Bill Maher

Even more importantly, the recall aims to put the fix in for a Bush reelection landslide in 2004. Bush wants and needs a reelection victory in 2004 in a way that gives a mandate to the whole agenda of the so-called "war on terror." They want a governor in place in California to deliver California the way that Jeb Bush delivered Florida in the election of 2000.

The official line is that the White House is staying out of the California recall. However, anyone following the national political scene would find it hard to believe that the White House would sit out a national political event that would have significant repercussions on the 2004 elections.

An article on the BuzzFlash website points to some of the significant evidence that the White House has played an active role in the recall:

Karl Rove, the key Republican political strategist in the White House, met with Schwarzenegger in April 2003.

Laura Bush's press secretary helped a GOP candidate strategize for the recall campaign.

Gerry Parsky, Bush's top California adviser, is playing a major roll advising GOP candidates on recall strategy.

Mindy Tucker, who served as a Bush spokesperson in the 2000 election and is currently a high-level Bush campaign strategist, is involved in developing Republican strategy for the recall.

A look at recent political events reveals that what's going on in California is not an isolated case, but part a nationwide pattern. Check it out:

First, in 1998, you had the impeachment of Clinton for "high crimes and misdemeanors" resulting from the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Then, in 2000, you had the Florida election with its hanging chads and the election of the U.S. president by the Supreme Court. At one point after the election you had a mob of "demonstrators," which, it was later revealed, was made up of Republican congressional aides and Republican Party officials, who broke into an office where the votes in the disputed election were being counted and intimidated election officials into stopping the counting of ballots. Dirty tricks were used to nullify the votes of Black people and various devious tactics were used to suppress the Black vote.

Earlier this year, Republicans led by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay demanded a remapping of Texas' congressional districts to ensure that a majority of Texas' congressional seats go to Republicans. Traditionally, congressional district lines are redrawn every ten years following the census. Texas' districts were remapped by court order after the 2000 census. When Democratic legislators in Texas left the state to keep the Republicans from getting the quorum needed to redraw the district lines, the Texas Republicans used their influence in the Office of Homeland Security to track down the Democratic senators and try to pressure them into returning to Texas so the vote could proceed.

"There has never been a use of power to this extent, in this magnitude, to change the whole structure of politics," Allan Lichtman, a history professor at American University, told the San Francisco Chronicle . "There is a concerted attempt to use whatever power they have to increase Republican majorities in key states as far as the eye can see."

A recent editorial in Governing magazine, a trade journal for 60,000 elected officials, was titled "Republican behaving badly." The article documents a number of abuses by the Republicans and said that the Republican's "bad behavior" "seems to stem from visceral resentment at the opposition party having any power."

The Republican Dream of One-Party Rule

A recent article on reported on the 55th Biennial College Republican Convention held earlier this year in Washington, DC. Salon reported that a major theme of the convention was that the Democratic Party opposition is illegitimate.

"As conservatives, we share a zeitgeist that is not shared by liberals," Paul Erickson, a Republican Party operative, said in a speech. "As conservatives, we don't hate America. ...It is not possible to have a debate, a discussion with someone who at their root, at their core, hate everything this country stands for but don't hate it enough to leave."

Another speaker exhorted the young Republicans to fight hard, lest "the ascension of evil, the bad guys, the Bolsheviks, the Democrats return."

"That equation--evil = communist = democrat--was axiomatic at the convention," reports Salon. Conservative writer Ann Coulter's latest book Treason,with its theme that virtually all Democrats are traitors and that we need to bring back the "good old days" of Joe McCarthy, was extremely popular. One vendor at the convention was doing a brisk business in "Bring back the blacklist" T-shirts, coffee mugs and mouse pads.

Of course, people in the Democratic Party are far from communists--and the leaders of the Democratic Party are entirely about preserving the imperialist/ capitalist set-up by any means necessary. But the fact that the Republican Party is whipping up their social base, saying that any opposition to their policies is tantamount to treason, says something heavy about the times we are in.

In an opinion piece titled "Toward One-Party Rule" in the June 27, 2003 New York Times , columnist Paul Krugman documents the way the Republican Party is working with lobbyists to develop a national political machine that is solely at the service of the Republican Party. Krugman writes, "from the drive to privatize Medicare, to the pro-tax cut fliers General Motors and Verizon recently included with the dividend checks mailed out to shareholders, to the pro-war rallies organized by Clear Channel radio stations...these are symptoms of the emergence of an unprecedented national political machine that is well on track to establishing one-party rule in America."

According to Krugman, lobbyists (and corporations) that try to maintain relations with both parties are subjected to intimidation and threats. "If you want to play in our revolution," House Majority leader Tom DeLay is quoted as saying, "you have to live by our rules."


This grim reality behind the California recall illustrates the horrendous agenda that is dominating official politics and the lengths they will go to get their way. And this bizarre episode of "democracy in action" is a wake-up call to everyone that we need a new and massive resistance--to deliver a resounding NO!, to make it clear that in our millions, we are not going to tolerate their punishing, imperial plans for the people of the planet.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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