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Jewish World Review May 29, 2001 / 7 Sivan 5761

William Schneider

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The War Between the States is heating up again -- THE War Between the States is heating up again. But this time, it's not North versus South. It's California versus Texas. The nation's first and second largest states are at odds over energy, over the Bush presidency -- in fact, over just about everything these days. California consumers are hopping mad. Who's to blame for their state's energy crisis? The energy companies, that's who. They're price-gouging California utilities and driving them into bankruptcy. Or so say many Californians -- including Gov. Gray Davis.

Will the federal government take action? Don't hold your breath. Because those are "Texas" energy companies, and guess who's in charge of the federal government? Two former Texas energy executives.

The White House response to California is, it's your own damn fault. As Vice President Dick Cheney put it, "What's happened in California, I would argue, is they've taken the route of saying, `Well, we can conserve our way out of the problem. . . . We don't have to produce any more power.' So they haven't built any electric power plants in the last ten years in California, and today they've got rolling blackouts.''

Gov. Davis's response? "Vice President Cheney is grossly misinformed about California's aggressive program to build new power plants.'' David contends that the federal government "has utterly failed to discharge its responsibility'' in the current crisis.

California wants the feds to impose caps on wholesale energy prices. The justification? Wholesale power prices have shot up 1000 percent in the past year, while California's demand for energy grew by only 4 percent. Is that price-gouging? It sure looks suspicious. The profits of many Texas energy companies have risen by 500 percent or more.

California leaders responded to President Bush's energy plan in unusually blunt language. Sen. Diane Feinstein charged, "This lengthy document will not provide one more kilowatt to California this summer, prevent one more minute of blackouts or keep one less dollar from being transfered from California into the hands of the Texas-based energy producers.'' Gov. Davis declared, "We are literally in a war with energy companies, many of which reside in Texas.''

President Bush appears to have no great love for California. He's traveled to 26 states since taking office. But not once to the nation's largest state. And why should Bush care about California? Look what California did to him.

In 1996, California gave Bill Clinton a 13-point margin over Bob Dole. In 2000, the Al Gore campaign spent exactly zero dollars in California. The Bush campaign spent over ten million. And what did it get Bush? A 12-point defeat.

During the Nixon and Reagan eras, California and Texas were the buckle and clasp of the GOP's Sunbelt coalition. California voted Republican in every presidential election from 1968 through 1988. That was more Republican than Texas, which was loyal to LBJ's vice president in 1968 and to Jimmy Carter, a son of the south, in 1976.

In the 1990s, however, the Sunbelt became unbuckled. California and Texas went in opposite directions, politically. California voted for Bill Clinton -- twice. And then for Al Gore. Democrats, three for three. Texas voted for George Bush, then Bob Dole, then George W. Bush. Democrats, zero for three.

California has two Democratic senators and a Democratic governor. In fact, Democrats hold every statewide elected office in California but one. Texas has two Republican senators and a Republican governor. Republicans hold every statewide elected office in Texas. Every one. What's driving the two great Sunbelt states apart?

Not demographics. California and Texas have about the same percentage of minority voters. It's "white" voters in the two states who are really different. And not in their economic attitudes. California and Texas are both heavily suburban states where fiscal conservatism is the rule. The big difference is values. Polls show Texans are more religious and more culturally conservative. Californians are more free-thinking and more liberal on social issues like abortion.

Those differences have existed for a long time. What suddenly drove them apart in the 1990s? The answer is Bill Clinton. Clinton was the first President to come out of the culture of the 1960s -- "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.''

Californians saw Clinton as one of them, and he made sure they saw a lot of him. Texans saw Clinton as one of "them,'' too -- meaning, "not one of us.'' By Election Day 2000, Clinton's job rating was almost 20 points higher in California than in Texas, even though both states were prospering.

Clinton's gone. Now it's George W. Bush who's driving the two states apart. Bush's values -- pro-gun, weak on the environment and anti-abortion -- are a tough sell in California. But weren't they Ronald Reagan's values, too? Californians did embrace Reagan, but that was in spite of, not because of, his conservative social values. Reagan had a relaxed, libertarian streak that Californians found reassuring.

Bush is not a Californian. He's not a libertarian. And his identification with the energy industry makes it that much harder for him in California.

Ironically, it was California Republicans who first petitioned Bush to run for President in 1999. They thought Bush's appeal to Latino voters would save the GOP in California after the party's devastating 1998 setback. It didn't happen, any more than Clinton-the-southerner was able to save the Democratic Party in Texas. In the end, Clinton was culturally alien to Texas. And Bush is just as culturally alien to California.

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05/21/01: The answer is men
05/10/01: Bush v. Carter?


© 2001, William Schneider