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Coup d’Etat Number Three? The California Recall and the Reversal of Elections
August 23, 2003
By Neil Myers

It came as no surprise to those who watch politics when the media began reporting recently that the besieged California governor Gray Davis had been chatting with former President Bill Clinton. What could they have in common? The answer is simple, but not so obvious, seeing as how only the most clever of commentators and pundits have taken notice—Bill Clinton and Gray Davis have both been square in the sights of the GOP, and Conservative efforts to remove them from office. One could only wish to be a bug in the telephone, listening in to the Clinton and Davis exchanges. And even though Davis isn’t talking or sharing the advice that he’s getting from Clinton, it is not too difficult to imagine what is being said.

First of all, it is hard to escape the pattern that is emerging—the pattern of major elections being reversed, either directly or by attempt. The first in the recent array would be the 1998 impeachment in the House of Representatives of then President Clinton, for his alleged “high crimes and misdemeanours” in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. In that instance, the Republicans managed to pin down their most slippery of fish, but they were unable to pull the catch in the boat when the Senate didn’t back up the impeachment of Clinton with a conviction, which would have removed him from office. Clinton took the heat of the scandal, baring his dignity hard on national television, but weathering the storm with his well established poise and political savvy. The big fish had escaped, damaged but not snatched.

In the second instance, we can cite the controversial Supreme Court decision in 2000 that handed the Presidency to George W Bush. In that moment, with Bush holding a razor-thin lead in the actual votes counted in Florida, the Democrats rightfully contested the result of the election, and the unclear punch cards that led many in largely Democratic counties to vote for Conservative Pat Buchanan, when it appeared the punch-card in use had likely made them mistake Al Gore for Buchanan. The legal wrangling put the decision of millions of Americans in the hands of our judges, and the process sped upward to the US Supreme Court. The court, in turn, ruled that it was not likely that continual counting of hanging chads and oddly aligned punch cards would change the result of the vote, and at that point, more for propriety than reason, Al Gore conceded the Presidency. Yet one can’t say at the same time that he conceded a defeat, especially in light of his having won the popular vote. Still, our courts chose our President, taking the decision out of the hands of the voters. Indeed our system was designed for that as a contingency, but one has to wonder how often this pattern is going to be repeated.

It is only after you have considered the Clinton impeachment of 1998 and the highly unusual Presidential election of 2000 that some light on the California recall process emerges. And as you see that Hollywood star power has been added in the form of Arnold Schwarzenegger (and actor Rob Lowe as an advisor) to the process of unseating Governor Davis, then the real nature of these reversals, or attempted reversals, emerges. It stands to reason that many Californians are unhappy with certain aspects of Governor Davis’ performance. Yet, at the same time, they are forgetting that they elected him no more than a year ago. This seems to re-emphasise the role of short memories in our political landscape. As they lodge their virulent list of complaints about Governor Davis, the most mystifying is the one regarding the budget. The estimated 38 billion dollar budget deficit in California has been the driving force behind this process. On this matter one has to concede a point to the Californians who are unhappy with the situation. They should indeed be concerned about budget pitfalls, and they reserve the right to act on such a matter—especially as it relates to California being the 5th largest economy in the world. But there is one chief fact that makes me believe that this is another GOP coup, and that fact is sitting in the White House.

President Bush inherited a country with a budget surplus, and now he has the distinction of spending our surplus and raising our federal debt ceiling to 7.4 trillion dollars. We are now turning federal budget deficits of 455 billion dollars in 2003, and there is no end in sight to the spending bonanza. An estimated 1 billion dollars a week is being burned on occupying and rebuilding Iraq, with the continual killings, sabotage and instability as the only result. The total Iraq bill in the foreseeable future could reach as high at 100 billion dollars. In addition to that, President Bush approved the enormously expensive anti-ballistic missile shield, and did away with the ABM treaty with Russia in the process. Add the understandable expenses associated with the terrible fall out of 9/11, and our President’s spending excesses and overseas military adventures look like pure madness. Why, in turn, does nobody want to recall him?

Nobody seems to be asking that central question? The conservatives of America scandalized President Clinton for his admitted infidelities, though they were weak on trying to establish how that made him a bad President—a bad politician. The acquittal of President Clinton in the Senate confirmed that. Second came the Supreme Court’s handing the 2000 election to George W Bush amid a groundswell of controversy. Now it stands that a Republican actor with no political experience (one couldn’t say the same about Ronald Reagan, he was involved in politics very early on, as President of the Screen Actors Guild) is the leading candidate to replace the governor of one of the country’s most important states, with some of its toughest issues lying along the road ahead. One has to ask, will Schwarzenegger be the new Jessie Ventura?

So, according to this logic, repealing a governor due to inflations of budget deficits should mean that we would be justified in repealing the President for even worse budget deficits. We don’t see anyone in the GOP peddling that petition. I am sure that they are rightfully worried that if they did, people might sign it.

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