Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Schwarzenegger Embraces the Fear Factor

On May 19 California will have a Special Election, whose ballot consists of six Propositions introduced in an effort to repair the state's fiscal crisis. To call these Propositions divisive would be the height of understatement. This past Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle ran a report of how six current gubernatorial candidates plan to vote on them; and the results ran from blanket approval by two candidates (State Attorney General, and former Governor, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa) to blanket rejection by one (State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner). Whether or not Poizner has the support of the majority of the electorate, his explanatory language certainly reflects what many voters feel:

Proposition 1A was crafted by a handful of politicians and lobbyists in a back room out of public view. It is part of a flawed budget deal passed in the dead of night without public discussion or review. That's simply wrong and a key reason why I'm voting against Proposition 1A and all six propositions on the May 19 ballot.

From a strictly logical point of view, a flawed process does not necessarily entail flawed results; but the "smart money" tends to bet against those results being good ones. Poizner is hoping that those who still have money with which to bet will cover him.

Supporters, on the other hand, argue that doing anything is better than doing nothing. They are likely to be covered by those feeling the worst of the crisis. Nevertheless, Poizner has a point in that any action should be based on reasons; and there should be some soundness in the reasoning behind those reasons, so to speak. The problem is that much of that reasoning takes place in the arcane language of an economic culture that tends to beat down those (like Margaret Atwood) who try to view the situation in terms that the rest of us can understand. Such frustration can lead to a rejection of any deliberation in the face of an urgent need to take action, taking "decisive measures" (as George W. Bush put it) without worrying about whether or not those measures are actually warranted. At the risk of making the whole affair too reductive, it comes down to choosing between the efforts of an Atwood to make sense of it all and those of a Bush to act decisively before things get worse.

Into this dialectical opposition now steps Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Matthew Yi filed the following report from the Chronicle Sacramento Bureau at 4:00 this morning:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to seek the elimination of more than 1,700 state firefighting positions and closure of scores of fire stations if voters reject key ballot measures in the May 19 special election, according to documents obtained by The Chronicle on Monday.

Schwarzenegger's proposal involves slashing $80.8 million from Cal Fire's spending plan - a 10 percent reduction - by eliminating 602 full-time positions and 1,100 seasonal firefighting positions. The cuts would be part of a series of deep cuts to the state budget.

Cal Fire, the state's fire agency, has about 5,000 full-time firefighters. At the peak of last year's fire season, more than 2,700 wild fires ravaged the state and the agency hired extra help: 3,000 seasonal firefighters.

The plan would also shutter 11 conservation camps and 20 single-engine stations throughout California.

Closing fire stations would affect response times and the agency's ability to make inspections on defensible spaces, according to the document.

To my literary-minded (Atwood-like) thinking, this reads like a hostage situation, the sort of situation that reminded me of a standard mantra of the Bush Administration: "We don't negotiate with terrorists." At a time when, regardless of their conclusions, our gubernatorial candidates are struggling to make sense of the problem, the current governor has decided to play the same fear card that Bush played with his "decisive measures" (not to mention his "Global War on Terror"). Unfortunately, when it comes to crisis situations, fear has a strong track record for trumping reason; so Schwarzenegger may well get his way at the ballot box. Whether or not California finds its way out of the economic woods will be anyone's guess.


Wes said...

Stephen, This is not related to this post, but I don't have your email address. Knowing that you so frequently cited The Wire, I wondered if you were aware of David Simon's testimony to the Senate yesterday in a hearing on the "Future of Journalism." http://commerce.senate.gov/public/_files/DavidSimonTestimonyFutureofJournalism.pdf

Stephen Smoliar said...

Since I could not reply to Wes by electronic mail, I wanted to thank him for providing this link; I have now followed it up with the new post
From Television Drama to Congressional Testimony