The chaos in California is just a microcosm of our late, great form of government. It could portend where the country at large, bitterly divided, disillusioned, and broke may be headed. Believe, if you will, that we still enjoy a democracy in America, but the fact is that somewhere between Washington and Sacramento we lost it. With apologies to Honest Abe, we stopped having a government for, by, and of the people a long time ago. It was replaced with all-for-one political agendas, special interests with exclusive access and influence, and money-is-no-object egomaniacs.
Truth is, the average American citizen is so far out of the loop of majority rule as to make self-government an oxymoron. The rich and powerful govern with practical impunity. The poor taxpaying bloke struggling to keep his head above water is almost irrelevant to policy-making on his behalf. Try contacting your elected official with comment or question. Chances are you'll have as much luck as getting an audience with the Pope.
It's just as futile trying to conduct something akin to civil discourse with a political ideologue, let alone a wealthy one whose money has always talked for him before. Look at the bitter gridlock in Congress. Lawmakers can't even hold bipartisan debates like adults.
Millionaires and multimillionaires call each other names in the heat of not getting their way and even summon Capitol police to intimidate dissent.
The take-no-prisoners mindset was melded by nasty Newt Gingrich and honored ever since by every fundamental, non-compromising, make-it-personal, public servant.
In the good old days, politicians representing diametrically opposed ideologies could disagree vehemently and still shake hands or play golf at the end of the day. Today, it's all or nothing. Centrists are copouts. Differences only dilute the one, true way. A nation divided in the hanging chad aftermath of the 2000 presidential election is today nowhere near one nation under God.
Briefly unified in the wake of unprecedented terrorist attack on American soil, we soon splintered, turning against the world community and ourselves. We did what Osama bin Laden couldn't do to the United States - made it even more despised on the international landscape - and even more polarized, confrontative, dogmatic, and heavy-handed at home. Civil liberties taken for granted were suspended. The sequel to the Patriot Act - a misnomer if there ever was one - aims to suspend more.
War to prevent war became a unilateral right and, afterward, corporate cleanup of the vanquished oil-rich prize a given. But the seeds of distrust began to take root at home as disarray sprouted in occupied territory abroad. Death comes to Americans mired in a faraway desert war almost daily.
In the midst of our escalating unease with official policy on war and peace, profit and power, came California, groaning from the weight of its own excesses and excuses.
As the state of the state rapidly deteriorated from bad to worse, so did thoughtful discourse over who to blame for the state's fiscal, energy, employment, environmental - you name it - woes. At long last the out-of-the-loop silent majority stirred. Everyone was mad as hell. Frustration fueled a crazy idea to run the state's CEO out of town.
The notion went nowhere until money was added to the mix. A millionaire with an ego and an agenda paid for the recall in full. Egos and oddities responded en masse. It was all-for-one jostling for me-too prime-time attention. The millionaire with the money and ambition to be California's next dauntless dude in Sacramento wept not with elation at the results but depression when Arnie moved in for his close-up.
You'd cry, too, if your hard-earned millions suddenly went hasta la vista, baby.
Plenty has been said about Gray Davis - and it's probably all true - but the man was duly re-elected governor by Californians. One year into his second term his crime may be a lousy job performance but when did that negate a vote of the people?
Democracy shouldn't be undone by those unhappy that the other guy got more votes. Will impatience with the imperfect system pervert it to fit the paralysis of the moment?
Only if true patriots fail to restore what has been lost in the country, its solidarity of purpose, its principled bedrock of one man, one vote, its voice.