Gray's Clues

Who do we blame for the recall retrenchment?


It should have become clear to all that Gray Davis was impervious to any attack last month, when the actress Cybill Shepherd revealed her teenage tryst with the future Governor of California—or more pointedly, when it was revealed that Davis had survived his encounter with that doe-eyed succubus who ruins every man in her path. Elvis Presley, fresh from his triumphantly televised 1968 return, went on a few dates with the 19-year-old Shepherd, and from then on only bloated, pill-popping personal miasma awaited The King. The hot young director Peter Bogdanovich emerged from his Shepherd encounter with a broken marriage and a floundering career. Two former Mr. Shepherds have been consigned to cold storage. Even Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver's fictional hero, didn't really descend into madness until Shepherd's "Betsy" character appeared in his life.

But Davis, we learned recently, not only smooched with the vibrant (and apparently underage) Shepherd back in the Pleistocene period, but was pronounced a "good kisser," returned from Vietnam in one piece, went on to a successful political career, overcame an ichthyoid lack of personal charm to take command of the nation's most populous state, and squeaked out a narrow re-election despite being one of the most unpopular incumbents in California history. How could we not have seen the truth? If Cybill Shepherd couldn't undo Gray Davis, what chance did the voters of California ever stand?

Sure, you might give other explanations for yesterday's decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to postpone the special election to recall Governor Davis. You might note that the compulsively left-leaning court's concern for the integrity of our votes is of suspiciously recent vintage. Why is it that the punch-card voting machines still used in six California counties are so prone to error that we can't risk another election on them, yet these same machines were considered good enough to elect Davis in a tight race less than a year ago?

You might also note that the most likely new date for the election—March, 2004—conveniently coincides with the Democratic party primary, presumably upping the turnout by Democrats and boosting Davis just when he needs it most. For that matter, any delay in the election arguably works in Davis' favor, cooling the passions of voters looking to oust the sitting governor and giving Republican contender Arnold Schwarzenegger—who has of late been publicly roasted over his own woman issues—more time to ripen and become odiferous.

Or you could point out the condescension in assuming that minorities will be hardest hit by faulty voting mechanisms—as if the transparent or confounding nature of using punch cards is not the same for all Californians.

You might place the blame where it most justly belongs—with the counties of Los Angeles, Mendocino, Sacramento, San Diego, Santa Clara and Solano. All these counties are already under a court order to have their voting machines updated by the March election. Now, granted, California county governments are institutions outside of time, whose eternal dignity requires them to operate at the sort of stately pace we'd expect to find at the Holy See. But just this once, with an election that has riveted the attention of the entire world, with the planet's seventh-largest economy at issue, with an electorate larger than the population of many nations waiting to participate, couldn't the counties perhaps show a little speed in discharging their basic duty of ensuring that voters can be polled with some measure of accuracy? Couldn't they, in other words, have pretended for a few months that they were working for the public rather than vice versa?

You might pin your hopes on an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but it says here that that's a pipe dream. This is no Bush vs. Gore, where the inflexible schedule of presidential turnover created a potentially disastrous time crunch. In that case, the Supreme Court inserted itself as an emergency measure—and as it stated in its decision, on a one-time basis that was not intended to create a precedent. The question of whether the California recall takes place now or next March hardly rises to that level of national urgency.

You could, if your outlook was especially bleak, predict that even with the inevitable next appeal, Gray Davis, resourceful in all things except the competent management of state government, will always find one more weapon in his bag of tricks.

Sure, go ahead. Believe the official stories. Blame whomever you want. I'm blaming Cybill Shepherd.