Jewish World Review Feb. 22, 2002/ 24 Adar I, 5763
As pesky as France,
but with better wine
SANTA MONICA, Calif.
Not so long ago California was
the mother lode of American
politics, the place where both
parties came to find issues,
candidates and luck. Think Earl
Warren, Richard Nixon, Ronald
Reagan. Even, for one brief shining
five minutes, Jerry Brown.
The only California pol with
pizzazz now is Martin Sheen, the
ersatz president of television's "West Wing," and his pizzazz is
ersatz, too. But he's a celebrity, and celebrity is about all
California has left from the glory days.
Someone here frequently observes that if California were
a nation it would be as big as France (with better wine),
which is only an argument for reducing France to a state. It's
a good thing it's not. California would be leading the
campaign against the war in Iraq, which only demonstrates
that it doesn't any longer have a lot in common with
We could return California to Mexico, except that Mexico
is moving in with California, and soon there won't be anybody
left in Mexico to return it to. "Mexico is an inexhaustible
supply of cheap labor and cheap votes," says one
Democratic pol, who naturally asks to be left unidentified.
"So don't expect any politician, certainly not George W.
Bush, to change anything." English is not spoken in vast
stretches of Los Angeles, and last year the majority of babies
born in California were born to Latino mothers, most of them
Mexicans. This has skewed the politics leftward, probably
"The result is," Mark Baldassare, the director of the Public
Policy Institute of California, told the New York Times not
long ago, "you'll see California's electorate continue to
champion a different set of priorities from the rest of the
If so, it merely continues the trend. Al Gore walloped
George W. Bush by 12 points here in 2000, and despite the
ambitions of Karl Rove and other Republican strategists any
number of Democrats could probably do so again. The days
when the Republicans could count on California in the way
the party counts on the South today are gone with the wind.
The Okies and Arkies and the transplants from Michigan and
Ohio and Illinois who made this reliable Republican country
are gone with the wind, too, and their children and
grandchildren are outnumbered by the foreign born, and not
all from south of the border. These children and grandchildren
are staunch Democrats, anyway.
Nothing demonstrates the gap between California and "the
East," which is everything the other side of Yuma, than what
to do about Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass
destruction. "The East" worries about Iraq melting New York
City, and California frets about whether North Korea could
incinerate California before "the earthquake" dumps
everything into the sea.
The Hollywood celebrities may not be coherent, but
they're loud. President Sheen, in fact, may have more
credibility as president out here than George W. Bush - not
necessarily for reasons of politics but because he looks more
like a president.
President Sheen introduced a television commercial
yesterday in Hollywood, calling for "a virtual march on
Washington" with the beep and squeal of faxes and e-mail
messages replacing the thunder of marching feet, demanding
peace. "Don't invade Iraq," President Sheen told his press
conference, surrounded by his presidential brain trust, his
"West Wing" co-stars Anjelica Huston and Janeane Garofalo
and others, including Mike Farrell, a veteran of the famous
M.A.S.H. outfit in the Punic Wars. "Inspections work," Mr.
Sheen said. "War won't."
If anyone was skeptical that the Hollywood president
knows anything about what's really going on in Iraq, he can
call on intelligence gleaned from Sean Penn's famous trip to
Baghdad to get the straight goods from Saddam himself. His
trip to Baghdad is invariably referred to in Hollywood as "a
Miss Garofalo, presumably President Sheen's very own
Condi Rice, sat down with an interviewer with the fiercely
anti-war BBC ("PBS on steroids," in Andrew Sullivan's
description), and demanded not to be introduced as an
"actor," as actresses must be called in these P.C. precincts,
but as "a member of the U.S. anti-war movement." She
doesn't want to be called a celebrity, either. "It's such a
divisive thing," she said. "The term 'celebrity' makes my skin
There is, of course, lots of crawl space left in California.
Despite weirdness that occasionally verges into goofiness, it's
still the biggest tuna in the tank, with all those electoral votes
and all those millionaires ripe for plucking, eager to play
politics with real politicians. California will become
increasingly harder for the rest of us to live with, but living
without it is no fun even to imagine.
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