Why Isn't the Golden State Having Its Own Fiesta de Té?


Can a grassroots political movement really be grassroots if it's not composed of white Anglos? That's the implicit question in a New York Times roundtable on Tea Party politics in the Golden State.

They're bears, see, and a bear is the symbol of California, and it's a tea party.

The Grey Lady asks: "Where Are the Angry California Voters? With Tea Party politics less of a factor than elsewhere, what issues will determine the outcome in November?"

It's a great topic. Insurgent candidates have been winning primaries all over the country, yet California is once again looking at an election in which both parties will field the blandest and most establishmentarian candidates available in the free world. Why?

Claremont McKenna scholar Douglas Johnson says the state's population is just too big to be susceptible to grassroots challenges. Former Sacramento Bee columnist Peter Schrag says California's history of ballot initiatives and anti-tax movements should be considered the Tea Party's precursor movement—which he blames, incongruously, for the state's high unemployment rate and pension-driven structural deficit. Former John McCain flack Dan Schnur says California voters are more glum than angry (which strikes me as kind of true).

The San Francisco Chronicle's Debra J. Saunders—last seen running to the left of her liberal paper by supporting the legalization of marijuana—says the Democratic Party's lock on the state doesn't allow for extra-institutional challenges:

[T]he demographics skew too far to the left. California voters are 45 percent Democrat and 31 percent Republican.

Nonetheless, voters don't want to pay higher taxes. By 2 to 1, last year they rejected a proposition to extend a temporary broad-based tax increase. Now politicians of both stripes are scrambling to find savings. And they're looking at payroll…

The left has begun to realize that too-generous public-employee benefits — like lifetime health coverage for state workers who retire at age 50 — mean less money for the services they cherish.

Pacific Research Institute's Steven Greenhut, author of Reason's February cover story on the reign of government employees, gets specific on California's political economy and history:

This isn't a state where grassroots politics matters as much as money. The G.O.P. has had to rely in recent years on candidates who can self-fund—witness billionaire [Meg] Whitman's record-setting $119 million investment in her campaign. California Democrats are so disagreeable to the G.O.P. base that conservatives are still influenced by arguments about supporting electable candidates. The mere mention of the names Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown offers plenty of motivation.

Referring to the recall of Gov. Gray Davis and his replacement with Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Seiler, a former editorial writer for The Orange County Register, says, "We had our Tea Party in 2003 and it backfired."

But the most interesting response comes from Lisa García Bedolla, an associate professor at Berkeley. Bedolla effectively calls for one-party rule under the Democrats; blames a shadowy cabal of Kochs, Fox executives, and "cynical billionaires"; and says California has been spared the ravages of political activism and peaceful assembly because "white discontent" doesn't play in a majority-minority state.

It's a long drive (through several Republican districts!) from the East Bay to L.A. County, but is Bedolla even paying attention to what's happening down here?

The eruption in Southeast L.A. County—which has been building up for several years, though the Los Angeles Times deserves its inevitable Pulitzer for exploding the story—is not a case of the white overclass getting angry about a threat to its privileges. The Bell activists are Latino Democrats, largely Spanish-speaking, less than fully marinated in small-government sensibilities and inclined to believe, as activist leader Cristina Garcia puts it here, that "for the most part the government works."

Yet there they are, protesting not just excessive taxation but excessive spending. They are exercised about the very same thing—being preyed upon by a self-enriching public-sector bishopric—that motivates the Tea Partiers. And with the city government facing a massive general fund shortfall and destroyed credit, they can't avoid the deadly question "What will you cut?"

Strangely, Saunders—the conservative in the roundtable—is the only one who notes that there are similarities between the Bell recall movement (or for that matter, the Golden State's broad popular outrage about government employee pay at all levels) and the Tea Party.

I confess that I was not aware of how many people believed the white-bigotry slander against the Tea Party movement until I was accused last week of giving aid and comfort to people who support "the strafing of Mexican children." I want to make it really clear that the only Mexican children I support strafing are the ones who live in my building. But a lot of things make more sense if you look past party affiliation and skin tone (never terribly reliable indicators of a person's character), and see the same situation playing out in the same way. You don't need white people to help you figure out that the government fucks everybody (though not always equally).

As for why Californians aren't engaged in more strenuous activism, I go with the simplest explanation: The weather's nice, there's abundant high-quality weed, and if you don't have to think about politicians why would you?

NEXT: Bank Shot

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  1. Here’s why: Californians are smarter than the typical Tea Partier. The doofuses in the other states haven’t done the deep thinking yet. Tea Partiers know they don’t like government, but they aren’t willing to recognize it as the “enemy.” Yet.

  2. Strangely, Saunders — the conservative in the roundtable — is the only one who notes…

    That’s not strange.

    Among commentators, only conservatives (and you, and like two other libertarian-branded dudes) are uncommitted to the axiom that the teabaggalos are a mad race-mob with no history preceding Obama’s election, enraged by his sexually menacing beigeness and his Leonardo-like world-altering omniscience and his embodiment of the cracker-crushing Steamroller Of History and shit.
    People say what they have to.

    1. Do you ghost write for Maureen Dowd? Because mad race-mob with no history preceding Obama’s election, enraged by his sexually menacing beigeness and his Leonardo-like world-altering omniscience and his embodiment of the cracker-crushing Steamroller Of History sounds like something she actually would write.

      1. But Dowd gets paid for writing crap.

    2. Are you fucking retarded?

      That’s a rhetorical question. The answer is obvious.

  3. Tim’s right about the reasons why. It’s simply too nice down there. That’s why the Chargers can’t sell out their home opener and LA can’t support a football team. Too many honeys in bikinis and too many places to surf.

    1. No, the Chargers couldn’t sell out their home opener because my Chiefs demoralized the fuck out of that pathetic fanbase. Damn, I can’t wait to make the road trip down there for December.

      1. OH SNAP!!!!! Any Chargers fans on here to defernd your team’s honor?

        Well, I’m a Steelers fan and can’t wait till they fuck up the Raiders (even though the game is in Pittsburgh). Alll the jackass Raiders fans in the valley make me laugh.

        Too bad I’ll be in Iowa City that weekend watching my Buckeyes represent.

    2. Goddamn! I noticed that too. In the beginning of the game I was talking to guests on my bar, “WTF? How the hell did the Chargers sell out their stadium?”. Then I realized they were playing the Chiefs. Who look damn good this year . . . till they get into the playoffs and get crushed by duh Bears. But whatever.

    3. No, Los Angeles can’t support a football team because the city is more libertarian than all other major cities in the country on this aspect.

      That is, they refused to use taxpayer dollars to pay the bribe to billionaire team owners by building them a brand new stadium at no charge, so every team goes to Bumfuck Nowhere that is willing to raise taxes to pay for such as opposed to the second largest city in the country.

      1. Well, come on, it’s not like we didn’t have a semi-professional team here in L.A. for quite a number of years. And now that Carrol’s left, it looks like UCLA might pick up some of the slack. And we’ve got the Lakers. We’re not so libertarian about them.

        To be honest, the Rams broke my heart when they left. Pro football has never been the same. The Raiders were just a temporary sop. I could never give them my heart.

        1. Heck, you still have the semi-professional Clippers.

  4. In some ways voter apathy is it’s own Tea Party.

  5. Bingo Bingo. Also Californians have all those initiatives. Those are specific. Tea Baggers are too amorphous with their so-called beliefs. But I don’t want to leave the impression the Tea Party is just a flash in the pan. I think it’s destined to take over the Republican Party just as the Republican Party took over the Whig Party.

  6. As for why Californians aren’t engaged in more strenuous activism, I go with the simplest explanation: The weather’s nice, there’s abundant high-quality weed, and if you don’t have to think about politicians why would you?


    I was planning on saying the same thing until I got to the bottom and realized you’d said it.

    Look – if we’re not at the beach or in the mountains, we’re working our asses off to pay our mortgages. This is also the reason I really only know one of my neighbors(and that’s because they’re also potheads).

    I remember growing up in the northwest. We had this thing we called ‘winter’ – it lasted for 10 months and gave you lots of time to sit inside and think and bitch. We have no such luxury here.

    1. Also – I’ve never met a tea partier, but I’ve met a hell of a lot of Ron Paul/CFL supporters down here. Maybe that’s just the crowd I run with though…

      1. There’s a connection or overlap between the Paul movement and the Canadian Football League?

        1. I thought he was talking about the Calcutta Football League

        2. Uh, duh! Compact florescent lighting!

    2. Tell me about it. I grew up in Santa Barbara. Now I live in western Washington and take vitamin D supplements.

      But at least there’s no state income tax here.

  7. I’ve been spending a lot of time in Mexico and Vegas lately, but my home base is still California. I spend a lot of time in LA. I have tons of friends and family there and in San Diego. I talk to people about stuff…

    Surely, my rage towards Sacramento and Washington must count for something? And I’m not the only one.

    I think the Tea Party might have a Postrelian “glamor problem” in blue, blue states like California. In California, the Tea Party is more likely to be associated with anti-immigration types–rightly or wrongly–and that comes across about as “glamorous” and cool as LoneWacko does around here. …which is to say, not in the least bit cool or glamorous.

    But just because people maybe aren’t as quick to self-identify with that particular “Tea Party” label, doesn’t mean they aren’t mad as hell at Sacramento, the bailouts, ObamaCare and the rest.

    They are.

    Maybe they just don’t want to be uncool about it.

  8. I live in L.A. 2 things: 1) The state is retardedly democratic, and people feel it is insurmountable. 2) People will simply vote to send their message.

    Also, I’ve been to Tea Party events here. They happen, but they are a little different. For example, I was at one with a group called “Lesbians Against Big Government”. You don’t see that everywhere.

    1. Yeah, the whole “Tea Party” label is too associated with Kern county types that wear ‘Mericun flags and carry guns. And even those among us that harbor deepseated contempt for our government masters will begin to shudder in fear once they start dumping “teh poor teacherz”

    2. And we do have a prop to vote on that will legalize marijuana.

      And also? There’s this place South of Fullerton and north of Chula Vista. It goes from the ocean on the west to the Arizona and Nevada borders on the east. It comprises Orange County, San Diego County, Riverside County and San Bernardino County, and there’s about 12 million people living there…

      …the area doesn’t get a lot of coverage, for some reason, but I don’t think you get the same reaction to the Tea Party there as you’d get in West LA.

      1. Where is this magical land?

        1. It’s the land of Nixon and Reagan. The land that time forgot!

          Throw in LA County with the others, and it should be it’s own state.

          12 million people, who outside of Palm Springs/Palm Desert, pretty much skew Republican.

          1. Or used to. San Deigo, Riverside, San Bernardino Counties all voted for Obama. Even Orange County has a Democratic Congresswoman. As these areas get more urban and older, they get more Democratic.

            Rural areas are Republican. Newer sururbs are Republican. Older sururbs are Democratic. Cities are Democratic.

            1. Err, suburbs. Not sururbs. Whatever.

  9. Before taking power, Schwarzenegger looked like the most libertarian politician California could hope for. Professed admirer of Milton Friedman, no interest in the social conservative stuff. Is he still popular? Do any current candidates evoke his name or legacy or whatever?

    1. Shortly after taking power, the california public employees unions started picketing all of his public speeches–and I thought that anybody that makes government employees that mad, but be super-fantastic!

      He’s powerless. He caved on this and that. He went Kennedy. It’s not that he abandoned that stuff completely, it’s just that the governor of California is pretty much a powerless job. It doesn’t really matter who the governor is.

      At one point, they were talking about amending the Constitution, so he could run for president. His political career is over now. He’s done.

      1. Don’t forget he had a big slate of initiatives that would have been nice if they’d passed. But it was too much too soon, the union-funded opposition killed them, and he never recovered.

        The legislature continued its merry leftist ways, trying to pass socialized medicine at the state level and tear down dams that supply power and water. Idiots.

        1. “The legislature continued its merry leftist ways, trying to pass socialized medicine at the state level and tear down dams that supply power and water. Idiots.”

          You can say the same thing going back to Jerry Brown’s first term in office.

          The state’s ungovernable, especially by a governor. It hasn’t mattered who the governor was for a long time.

          1. The unions spent $100 million to kill those intitiatives. That’s real money, even in a state of 30 million. Extended to the country it’s the equivalent of spending about a billion. And those intiatives were in 2005, where there’s not much else on the ballet and little advertising. So the unions flooded the zone in that election. The most ‘special’ part of the story for me is that something like half of that was borrowed, backed up by future union dues. The unions went all in and won. The state lost.

    2. He gave up after he called for a special election in 2005 with four or five propositions, mostly of the smaller government variety. They all failed.

  10. RE: Alt-text

    When you have to explain it, it just doesn’t work.

    1. Actually, I like the Alt-text. Having children’s toys rather than a fierce animal reminds one of the theme of wimpiness asociated with not yet having throngs of Californians in Sacramento with pitchforks and/or torches and/or machine guns.

    2. The joke is that it’s an explanation. It’s a meta-joke.

    3. I surf reason with only cached images, so I always see the alt-text first.

      I figured it was going to be a picture of Bear tea partiers.

    4. I surf here with only cached images, which means I always see the alt-text first.

      I expected to see a picture of Bear Tea Partiers.

  11. The GOP was a competitive party in CA, within a vote of controlling the Assembly, until Pete Wilson destroyed it with Prop 187. So that brand is pretty tarnished now. Maybe someone will start a conservative reconquista party.

    1. Please not this mythology again. The GOP controlled the Assembly once since the 60s and the Senate 0 times since then. When the Gipper was winning by landslides here, more than half the registered voters were Democrats. All but a dozen and half counties had Dem registration advantage including all but one of the SoCal counties. Now actually there are more registered GOP in more than half the counties here. What I’m saying is that it still a competitive party even if the populace is typically libtard.

      1. Curt Pringle was speaker of the Assembly in 1996. This is only a mythical in the sense that it was before Wilson destroyed the GOP. Who cares what party people register? Mexicans registered Dem but split votes fairly evenly between Dem and GOP candidates. Untill Pete Wilson asked Mexicans to kindly stop voting GOP and they have obliged.

    2. Elaborate?

      1. Have you ever talked politics with a Chicano? They have their share of liberals but they are largely social conservative and chamber of commerce style conservatives. Not libertarian at all but very receptive to GOP message.

        1. That didn’t help at all. No clue what Prop 187 was (why do people expect non-Californians to know these things?), who Pete Wilson was, or why Chicanos (presumably some subset of Mexicans?) are involved.

          1. Pete Wilson was gov of CA from 1991-1999.

            Prop 187 was a Wilson supported 1994 ballot initiative to block illegal immigrants from receiving social services. It was very popular but was blocked by court challenges and appeals were ended when Davis was elected.

            1. “So that brand is pretty tarnished now. Maybe someone will start a conservative reconquista party.”

              I don’t know about a “reconquista party”, but if it’s conservative, that’ll probably mean a Catholic flavor of identity politics kind of thing.

              Liberation theology notwithstanding, conservatives should look to the Italian American and Irish American community if they want to see the future.

              That brand of conservatism isn’t about low taxes and fiscal restraint, that’s for sure. It’s a value-flip from what conservatism has meant to most Americans since the New Deal and Goldwater–a conservatism where everyone’s forced to pay their fair share.

              …whatever that is.

              1. Living in Mexico, the biggest cultural difference I found was the concept of greed.

                Growing up in Maryland/Virginia, greed was when you took things that didn’t belong to you–to the local Mexicans, greed is when you’re not willing to share what you have with everyone around you.

                Every time I hear someone complaining about the Mexicans coming here and using our schools and hospitals for free… Every time I hear Mexicans complain that the anti-immigration crowd is trying to exclude them from something they should be entitled to like everyone else…

                When I hear that stuff now, whether they realize it or not, they’re basically just calling each other greedy. Among other things, they have widely conflicting ideas about greed and what it is.

              2. Yes that type of conservative.

            2. This is why I expect Arizona to become a blue state very soon. They are mimicing California’s experience with prop 187 nearly perfectly.

  12. In a lot of ways California has a movement that stands against the machine, and has for a long time. Witness prop 13 that rolled back property taxes and capped their annual increase at 1%, prop 19 that flips a giant middle finger at the entrenched drug warriors, recall of governor Gray Davis.

  13. I really don’t get the premise of that NYT “debate” only because it never provides evidence that California is somehow uniquely immune to Tea Party activism. I mean, outside Rubio in Florida, I don’t see the Tea Party any more active in the Deep South. Even here knee-deep in libtard shit hole that is the Westside, I remember seeing TP protests at Westwood several times over the year. The assembly candidate in my swingish district, Minitz, is a Tea Party guy. Drive long enough and you’d see Gadsen flags. In the primaries here, the GOP despite being outregistered by 2 million people caught up to the number of Dem primary voters. There were more GOP primary voters than Demos for example in Loretta Sanchez’s all-but-Mexico district. One of the Santa Cruz/Monterey Senate district (quite Democratic duh) here was won by a conservative GOP assemblyman a couple of months ago. Not to mention of course, that in any nationwide conservative movement, a lot of it either originates here or backed by organizations from here.

    It’s not just Bell, Democrats like Brown, the other Brown, and Lockyer have been calling for union surrender on pensions. TP activism has pushed the debate to the right. Instead of arguing how much money to spend on the chillrun, we’re trying to find ways to choke government.

  14. I confess that I was not aware of how many people believed the white-bigotry slander against the Tea Party movement until I was accused last week of giving aid and comfort to people who support “the strafing of Mexican children.”

    Tim, you must’ve been asleep for the past 50 years. Since the 60s and the Civil Rights Act, the holy shrine of the Left is accusations of racism against small-government believers with the Civil RIghts Act itself being the equivalent of their Constitution.
    You ever wonder why even libertarians are accused of racism? Its a system of racial spoils – jobs, graft, redistribution to Blacks to keep them voting Democrat. As simple as that, and most Blacks don’t mind. Thats the dirty little secret. Most Black people will not give a hoot about reducing spending and taxes because they benefit from them.

  15. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Debra J. Saunders — last seen running to the left of her liberal paper by supporting the legalization of marijuana

    I was about to respond with the usual WTF? ‘Til I realized taxing and regulating marijuana is “to the left” of the moderate centrist position of prohibition.

  16. The left has begun to realize that too-generous public-employee benefits ? like lifetime health coverage for state workers who retire at age 50 ? mean less money for the services they cherish.

    This does not compute to me. Lifetime health coverage for an entrenched state worker system and retirement at 50 IS a service cherished by the left.

  17. COOL MAN TAX $ @ WORK:



  19. Wow, I don’t think anyone would have seen your comments if you hadn’t put them in all caps. What an original and totally un-annoying way to say “look at me world!”

    Do you know Steve Smith by the way?


    2. You figured out what he was trying to say?

  20. California is mightily screwed for a couple of reasons.

    1. The system of amending the constitution which allows any Tom, Dick, and Harry with enough money and activists to vote himself swag from the public treasury.

    2. The inability of the Republican Party to compete with the Democrats in that state and provide a stable alternative.

    3. The aforementioned public employee unions.

    4. Ponzi, come tumbling down! The State depends on business expanding for it to tax into oblivion. These businesses are pulling up stakes and moving to low tax Nevada, Utah, or China and Vietnam, because of the demands of the various levels of California state and local governance. LA used to be a big manufacturing town. Now, not so much.

  21. Two states – we want two states – there’s no culture – there’s no spies – the south takes what the north delivers and such – but no really the state needs to be broken up into two if not three states – won’t happen but that’s why we are screwed…

  22. “As for why Californians aren’t engaged in more strenuous activism,”

    The GOP have legitimate candidates for Governor and Senator in the same year, both with business backgrounds rather than political.

    This seems normal to you? They’re not in the street because the furthest right candidates possible are already running.

  23. Back to the good citizens of Bell, and how they’re similar to the Tea Party: The City Administrator, the Assistant Administrator, the Mayor, the Chief of Police, and all of the City Council but one were literally stealing money from the taxpayers. They were paying themselves huge salaries, but were concealing how they were getting paid with various dodges. They were loaning city money to each other. And to keep the money flowing in, they were illegally taxing the citizens.

    It’s the country writ large. Seeing what happened to the people of Bell gave me a deeper understanding of the motivations of rank and file tea partiers (not the hucksters already monetizing them, however. That motivation is all too easy to understand.)

    And you morons (well, some of you, not all) are still engaging in the tired puckey of dem vs. repub and conservative v. liberal. They’re all crooks.”Movement Conservatism” is a con. Did you read the GOP House Pledge? Same old, same old.

    The main problem the tea party has is that the noisy nutjobs and grifters are alienating the ordinary folk. Christine O’Donnell, in her heart of hearts knows she won’t get elected. She’s chasing a book deal and speakers’ fees.

    Get rid of Palin, O’Donnell, Newt, etc. (We can keep Rand), stick to the fiscal message and be willing to take the bitter medicine on entitlement cuts, drop the social conservatism, and I promise you the tea party will be truly unstoppable. Sadly, I don’t see that happening.

  24. I’d move to Californeyeay in a second — this Midwest rube-livin’ is gettin’ old…

  25. I’m thinking of writing a novel, one based on an actual current event, but with more than a nod to cultural history. It would be the heartbreaking yet inspiring story of desperate Californians loading all their worldly goods into minivans and U-Hauls, abandoning their blasted, waterless wasteland, and heading east to the Land of Opportunity: Oklahoma.

    Provisional title is ‘The Fruits of Liberalism.’

    1. That’s not the fruits of liberalism, that’s the fruits of mass immigration.

  26. Bell is not about ‘small government’, it is a typical Latin American rebellion against ‘corruption’ — a la Chavez in Venezuela.

    I’ll bet the amount the government spends on the good ‘citizens’ of Bell in Section 8, AFDC, WIC etc far excedes the bloated salaries of a few officials.

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