Monday, April 15, 2013

Surprise: California is a good example

TPM's Josh Marshall makes a significant observation:
… over recent months we’ve seen more and more polling which shows that Hispanics aren’t voting for Democrats because of the immigration issue. They’re voting for Democrats because they turn out disproportionately to be Democrats. …Quite apart from the immigration issue itself and whatever disconnect and tensions are created by anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic elements within the GOP, most Hispanics align with the issues supported by the Democratic party.

... different ethnic groups in the US simply have different politics. It all points toward doing something I think most people across the racial spectrum have a hard time doing, even as it becomes more and more of a demographic fact: seeing whites as another ethnic group in the US, still a huge but no longer an overwhelming majority of the country.

Quite apart from racial or cultural hostility or opposition to immigration for whatever reasons, it may be hard for the GOP to make significant inroads into the Hispanic or African-American or Asian-American votes, while remaining the party that so wildly over-performs among whites.
I read this -- and there's a good deal more in the original that deserves a more nuanced consideration than what I quote here -- and I wanted to scream: haven't these people who write about politics from the East Coast paid ANY attention to political developments in California over the last two decades?

If they had, none of this would have seemed so foreign. Politics in this state have been about working out a transition from white supremacy to pluralism for a long time and there's a good chance that the national trajectory can be envisioned by attending to what we've experienced here.
  • When older whites began to sense that their unquestioned numerical and electoral majority might not last forever, they used the Republican Party as an instrument to inflict policies that amounted to "Rule or Ruin" on the state. Specifically, they passed measures that broke state government's power to tax and hence to govern, beginning with Prop. 13 in 1978. The impulse to impede the progress of the rising tide of black, brown and various Asian Californians led to anti-immigrant measures (Prop. 187 in 1994), destruction of state affirmative action efforts (Prop. 209 in 1996) and outlawing bilingual education (Prop. 227 in 1998.)
  • Action leads to re-action. People of color and progressive whites -- including especially younger whites who had grown up in a plural society -- saw Republican racial bigotry and obstruction and mobilized electorally as Democrats. Since 1998 Democrats have monopolized almost all the positions elected statewide. Only the cartoonish Arnold Schwarzenegger could break the Democratic monopoly, though he couldn't bring other Republicans along on his coattails. Republicans could still stymie the legislature however, because a two-thirds vote is required to make a budget and they consistently had one vote in excess of one third.
  • Last year Democrats finally managed, with the growing black, brown, Asian and progressive white electorate, to pass new taxes by initiative and to win two thirds of both houses of the legislature. We can have government again -- Republican Rule or Ruin no longer prevails. The new balance is by no means certain, but any Republican gains in 2014 will almost certainly be swept away again by a California Democratic electorate in 2016.
  • Democratic pluralities of this size do not mean political nirvana. Ideological and interest struggles -- such as choices between spending on education or high speed rail; who is going to have lose as the state deals with its growing water shortage; should we allow fracking -- now have to get worked out within the Democratic Party. The minority Republicans are largely irrelevant; they've been dismissed by the voters. But the conflicts that are democratic politics remain.
It was possible to see that this was how the politics of California were likely to develop as early as the early 1990s -- the surprise is how rapidly California passed a democratic (small "d") tipping point. In two decades, we've moved from ground zero for a politics of racial polarization to a moment in which we're collectively trying to set the terms of the next period's challenges. We haven't achieved harmony -- far from it -- but the terrain has shifted, irrevocably.

I see no reason not to expect a similar national transition from the Republican Rule or Ruin era that we're currently living through to a more plural society. Yes, there are obvious obstacles: uneven geographical demographic change, the Senate, federalism, the South. But the most amazing feature of the last two decades of politics in California is simply that we did work our way through it. In 1994, the level of racial animosity in California and its accompanying political strains were bad enough that some of us found ourselves trying to explain that "California is the new Alabama."

California is not that state anymore. We still have many, many challenges, but at least we can say that it is possible to move through old problems and on to new ones. That's a lot when the alternative is fixating on the current gridlock in Washington and the constrained Obama presidency.

I'm getting on, but I can imagine living to the other side of this national impasse; California has demonstrated that it need not take as long as we might expect on our bad days.

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