Photo by Slobodan Dimitrov

The toxic Gray Kool-Aid so vigorously and blindly lapped up by Democrats and liberals over the past week seemed fully ingested by the time the polls closed Tuesday night. As the 8 o’clock hour ominously tolled at the Biltmore, the ballroom bleachers sagged under the weight of 200 or so journos, and a couple of very bored white-shirted fire marshals milled at the doorway, but nary a single living human being could be found on the floor of the Davis election-night party, a neat little reproduction of Jonestown.

I ran into my pal UCLA music maven Robert Winter, who had sauntered over to the Biltmore after being shut out from the Paul Krugman reading across the street at the public library. He was so amused by the deathly void of the funereal ballroom that he rushed out into its center so I could snap a souvenir picture of him standing starkly alone in Gray Davis’ new domain: the Big Nowhere.

Two hours later, when Davis formally surrendered, a roomful of supporters from Jesse Jackson to Dolores Huerta were dutifully assembled to stand with him before the cameras. But they shimmered onscreen as little more than political ghosts, having sacrificed themselves for such an unworthy ally as Davis.

Face it. Just about everything liberal activists said about the recall, just about every Cassandra-like prediction spooned out by the party hacks at, failed to materialize. Far from being a Republican “power grab,” the recall election culminated as a raucous festival of direct democracy. Turnout was much greater than in November. The voting system didn’t collapse. No Hurricane Chad ripped through the counting rooms. No masses of people of color were disenfranchised. Thousands of not-very-confused-at-all citizens did not mistakenly vote for Gary Coleman instead of Cruz Bustamante.

Over the past eight weeks, Democrats raised umpteen times more cash than Darrell Issa spent on gathering recall signatures (and more than Schwarzenegger did), and even with the added advantage of incumbency, Davis lost fair and square.

Tuesday’s winner didn’t finish with a mere 15 percent or 20 percent of the vote, as the anti-recall propaganda so relentlessly and falsely warned, but with a total nudging 50 percent. And please note: After all the absentee ballots are counted, Arnold Schwarzenegger gets not only more votes than those cast to retain Davis, but will also wind up with more votes than Davis won last November. Spin that any way you please, but the cold truth is that the Terminator’s mandate is every bit as broad and legitimate as was the failed Davis’.

Refusing to validate or even recognize the raw voter resentment against the political cesspool of Sacramento, liberals wound up pinned up against the wall, on the losing side of an historic voter revolt. As the insurgency swelled, the best that liberal activists could do was plug their ears, cover their eyes and rather mindlessly repeat that this all was some sinister plot linked to Florida, Texas, Bush, the Carlyle Group, Enron, and Skull and Bones. By bunkering down with the discredited and justly scorned Gray Davis, they wound up defending an indefensible status quo against a surging wave of popular disgust. So gross was their miscalculation that the campaign ended last week with the lobbyist-infested state Capitol being surrounded by 10,000 broom-waving Arnold supporters instead of by what should have been an army of enraged reformers and progressives.

If you think it odd that Schwarzenegger and the California Republican Party should be able to effortlessly assume the posture of populist slayers of special interests, then you are normal. But if you can’t figure out that it’s Gray Davis’ coin-operated administration and the liberals’ refusal to divorce themselves from it that allows such a comic-opera, then you’re, to be polite, naïve.

Yet, by election eve, liberals had worked themselves into quite a self-deluding and frenzied lather. The same apologists for Clinton’s sex scandals transformed themselves into the new morality police — shocked, even outraged by Arnold’s boorishness. Can you imagine someone like that in public office? (As a matter of fact I can, vividly recalling Juanita Broderick’s accusation of rape against Big Bill.) Defeat of the recall, in the heads of lefties, merged with images of the Durutti column heroically defending Madrid against the Franco onslaught. (No pasaran, Austrian swine!) And why not? Arnold, actually the most liberal of statewide GOP candidates to come along in a generation, was now a Hitler-loving Nazi. Like father, like son and all that. Today English only — tomorrow mandatory Deutsch.

I took all that overheated and rather juvenile satanization of Schwarzenegger as nothing more than some sort of twisted collective exorcism, a ritual-like purging of guilt and self-loathing by liberals who — up until last week — had, against their better instincts, and sometimes inexplicably, forced themselves to support the undeserving cause of the governor. But if, of course, Arnold was really a closet fascist and a serial rapist, the sleeper candidate of the Boys From Brazil, well then, we were no longer useful idiots in the survival of Big Money’s favorite governor, but now we would have promoted ourselves to righteous soldiers, the last thin line in defense of Western civilization as we know it.

Fortunately, much of the Democratic base is so much smarter than its leadership. Exit polling reveals much of it just plain refused to buy this crap and outright refused to lift a finger, or punch a chad, to save Davis. Twenty-five percent of Democrats voted to fire the Guv. The wheels of Miguel Contreras’ and the County Labor Federation’s much-vaunted multimillion-dollar get-out-the-vote machine flew off when it crashed head-on with the rank and file. Half of union households voted for the recall, 4 of 10 directly for Schwarzenegger. Black turnout was disproportionately low, and 30 percent of African-Americans voted to can the governor. So did half of Latinos and more than 40 percent of women, gays and lesbians. One out of four liberals also went with the Terminator.

This is all good news. Not because Schwarzenegger has been elected. (Nor is his election necessarily bad news. We shall see in the days and months to come if he can fulfill any of his outsider rhetoric or if he will indeed turn out to be one more business-as-usual Republican.) But for the moment, let the Democratic Party and its “progressive” satellites deeply, richly and slowly feel the painful consequences of allying with and defending — to death itself — the likes of Gray Davis. The harder the Democrats now have to work to hold on to constituencies they’d rather take for granted, so much the better. One day they may actually get it.

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