Starry Eyed Democracy


Kevin Starr, California's estimable state librarian, explains how he experienced a personal about-face on the recall, in part because of the way citizens are using technology to exert more influence on governance.

What seems to be going on in California, then, is not a political sideshow ? and nothing to be defensive about. Almost accidentally, a political instrument conceived in January 1911, when there were no radios or TV sets, when telephones and typewriters were luxuries, has opened the door to a new political world. How ironic that the recall, designed for a sparsely populated state of 3.4 million that was slow to communicate, has accelerated and compounded the political effects of our Internet-juiced multimedia environment.

No wonder California voters seem to be in a state of emotional and moral release, seeking a new connection to their politicians. Far from being a circus or even a grand opera, the current situation, as personally painful as it must be for Gov. Gray Davis, offers a breakthrough opportunity to rethink, reform, revitalize ? indeed, refound ? state government.

NEXT: Meet the New Boss

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  1. Emotional and moral release, he says. Sounds expensive.

    Look, anyone can see what will be required for California to fix its catastrophic budget situation. It will have to cut state government spending by a lot, and will have to raise some taxes too. These are generally unpopular things to do.

    I’m all for people tending to their emotional health and getting in touch with themselves and even their politicians in new and different ways, but whoever is governor for the next three-odd years will have to find a way to fix the California state budget, or this other stuff won’t be worth anything at all.

  2. “Far from being a circus or even a grand opera, the current situation, as personally painful as it must be for Gov. Gray Davis, offers a breakthrough opportunity to rethink, reform, revitalize ? indeed, refound ? state government.”

    Personal pain for Gray Davis may not be the main opportunity, but it’s certainly an important side benefit.

  3. I’m afraid he’s completely wrong. The California Recall shows how very much a circus democracy truly is. Technology has resulted in democracy on speed. Every special interest group and wannabee tyrant is trying to loot the public treasury. Bread and circuses for everyone!

  4. BTW, how does one become the official “state historian”? Is that like the title Danny Kaye used to have, of being the U.N.’s Goodwill Ambassador to the World’s Children? Does Mr. Starr, like Joltin’ Joe, insist that he be introduced as such at public events?

  5. Dr. Starr was (and may still be, for all I know) the State Librarian. I don’t know exactly what the details of the job are, except that it’s an appointed position in Sacramento which he held during the mid-90’s when I knew him as an acquaintance (I have no idea if he had held that post for any significant length of time prior to when I knew him).

    He’s also a professor at the University of Southern California (a private university in Los Angeles) where he holds the title “University Professor” (the university’s highest rank, above even full Professor). He’s written many books on the history of California. I’ve seen them on sale at various historic sites in California.

    Whether or not this has any bearing on his statements under discussion in this thread is for each reader to decide. But somebody asked how he got to be known as the “state historian”, and I figured I’d say what I know about him.

  6. My bad, now fixed. Thanks, Henry David!

  7. Well, his experience is clearly not in a math-related field, if he praises the democratic merits of a straight plurality vote! Excitement, indeed, in the sense that the outcome is minimally predictable from voters’ actual preference rankings.

  8. I’m in agreement w/ Kevin. I am very glad this recall is happening. Yes this election is a ridiculous circus. And yes we may not get a governer that a majority of the people want. But is Davis what Califonia voters wanted. No. It was what they were willing to tolerate. Now they find they can’t tolerate him any more. And a lot of califonians are willing to put up w/ this farce of an election to get rid of this guy. Now, I’m not happy that it was so easy to get on the recall ballot that now we have over 100 people running. Makes us look like a third world country. But maybe this will get people interested in local and state politics in Califonia again so this kind of thing doesn’t happen again. It’s just frustrates me that, in Califonia, we need things to get this bad in order to get voters to stand up and pay attention.

  9. One way to cut spending without cutting “services” would be to get rid of the “state librarian” and such positions if they involved any sort of cost.

    Even among services, it is not like all the state government services have to cost what the state employees spend. Private service providers may do the same thing for less. There can be a 10% fat cutting across the board … and so on

    I wish the good people of Oregan had passed their Healthcare referendum or whatever last year – that state might have been the next circus 🙂

  10. This from a state where its budget is controlled by ballot measure? Oh please. California is already micro-managed by the electorate.

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