Saturday, December 02, 2006

The People's Machine

I just finished reading The People's Machine: Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Rise of Blockbuster Democracy by Joe Mathews. It's a solid piece of work, but it closes just after Schwarzenegger's initiatives went down to defeat in November 2005. As a result, it doesn't include the scene in which Schwarzenegger, almost alone among bigtime Republicans, surfs the Blue Wave of 2006. Even more remarkable is the fact that he did it in one of the bluest nations in the state, and only one year after he got bageled on his initiatives. As one Sacramento insider put it recently, "Schwarzenegger crashed his Hummer into a tree at 100 miles an hour and walked away without a scratch."

Like many chroniclers of California politics, Mathews cites Carey McWilliams in his prologue--in this case, McWilliams's observation that California "has not grown or evolved so much as it has been hurtled forward, rocket-fashion, by a series of chain-reaction explosions." Mathews plays off the quote nicely when he adds, "The whole damn place was a special effect."

If McWilliams were around today, he would see Schwarzenegger as fresh evidence for his claim that California is the Great Exception. Certainly most of Schwarzenegger's success can be traced to three factors McWilliams stressed in his description of California's political culture-- the extraordinary power of media handlers, independent voters, and direct democracy. To see how little that culture has changed since McWilliams nailed it in 1949, check out "The State that Swings and Sways"--Chapter 11 in California: The Great Exception.

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