First, this disclosure: The odds of my ever complying with the Weekly‘s tortuously acrobatic endorsement of Gray Davis and actually voting for the guy were always about nil to zero. But any slight chance of my slipping from my stand was blocked by my teenage daughter this past weekend.
Next Tuesday will be 18-year-old Natasha’s first chance to vote, and she‘s been taking it seriously. Seriously enough to register in time. Seriously enough to read or watch the occasional piece of election coverage. And seriously enough to check out this paper’s endorsements that were published last week.
Along with nearly 60 percent of all likely voters, Natasha has had an unfavorable view of the governor, and so she was somewhat perplexed by the Weekly‘s endorsement of him.
”What gives?“ she asked me. ”Why’s the Weekly telling me to vote for a guy who‘s so ass? Should I really do it?“
I looked into my own child’s deep, brown eyes and thought about her question. What was my answer supposed to be? Something like: Even though this is your first election, you should immediately surrender all idealism, all hope and all your aspirations? You should always settle for second best, never demand excellence and just meekly submit to the grim reality that you will never have a better choice than what the current duopoly offers? That Big Money talks, and that your job is merely to walk into the voting booth and ratify one of its principal instruments? That all those exhilarating notions of political engagement, of social justice, of challenging the status quo that you are just discovering in college are fine for the classroom, but should never be allowed to seep into your real life? That you should vote your worst fears rather than your most passionate desires?
If you want to go ahead and tell your kid that, well, that‘s your business. But I say no, and that was precisely my answer to Natasha’s question: ”No way with Gray.“
As I said at the beginning, there was really no alternative to that prescription. Strip away all of the Weekly‘s contorted language in endorsing Davis, and it boils down to the simple axiom of voting for the lesser of two evils. Don’t misunderstand. I don‘t think that’s such a bad general principle. I mean, if you‘re going to execute me, give me a painless lethal injection before you tie me to a chair and bore me to death with closed-loop recordings of Al Gore speeches.
But in the case of our current governor, Gray Davis is just too lesser. And way too evil. It should be with great pleasure that as many of us as possible deposit our votes elsewhere on the ballot in defiant rejection of everything that Davis symbolizes. My vote will go to Green Party candidate Peter Camejo. Not because of anything particularly alluring about Camejo (whom I find kind of out to lunch) or about the Greens (whom I find increasingly to be little more than sentimental amateurs). But it seems to me that the real lesser-of-two-evils vote is precisely to vote against Davis — and in some manner that is a visible protest. That’s my reason for going Green.
What‘s at stake? According to the Weekly, ”too much“ to waste a vote on the Greens. Oh, poppycock. What’s the fear? That if too many of the disgruntled stray from the Democratic corral, big bad Nazi-like, Neanderthal, anti-choice, Christian Right Bill Simon Jr. will default into the governor‘s chair? And . . . so?
I don’t think that enough of you are going to follow my advice and take enough votes away from Davis to defeat him. Unfortunately. But if we did, if Davis‘ re-election was indeed spoiled by a protest Green vote, I couldn’t think of a happier election outcome.
That would truly be the lesser of two evils. Better to live with Simon for four years than with such limited choices forever. Anyway, inflicting that kind of pain on Davis would be delicious. And, much more importantly, it would be a historic message to the next Democratic candidate. He or she would have to come to terms with and placate an organized, progressive 10 to 12 to 15 percent of the state electorate to stand any chance of winning. No longer would we have to humiliate ourselves like some did this year, threatening hunger strikes on the Capitol steps to try to persuade a Democratic governor to sign, say, the pro–farm worker legislation. It would be the Democratic candidate who would be begging and pleading with us. a
To provoke that sort of political realignment, yes, I‘m willing to run the risk of Bill Simon. In case you hadn’t noticed, California has been a one-party state since the Republican collapse of 1998. The Legislature is and will remain overwhelmingly Democratic and is tilting ever more liberal. If we were to spoil Simon into the governor‘s chair, he would be powerless to the point of pity. The price we would pay for Simon’s election (which, I repeat, ain‘t gonna happen anyway) wouldn’t be rollback but rather stasis.
And that‘s a risk I’d be willing, even eager, to take if it put us in a position four years from now to bargain for an authentically progressive Democratic gubernatorial candidate. Conversely, with Democratic voters once again capitulating to the usual every-four-years blackmail about the Republican bogeyman, they are more or less guaranteeing that the most exciting candidate we will have to look forward to in 2006, after four more Gray years, will be none other than Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Put aside your worries then, and, with the clear-eyed enthusiasm of an 18-year-old first-time voter, cast a clean, Green protest vote against Gray Davis. You have nothing to lose but your fears. Remember that even if Simon gets elected, he can‘t govern like he’s beholden to $70 million in special-interest payola, he can‘t veto a bill to review three-strikes-and-you’re-out laws, he can‘t take a Singaporean stand on criminal justice to the right of Pete Wilson, he can’t be so enthusiastic about capital punishment that he seems ready to personally strangle the condemned, he can‘t veto common-sense legislation that would provide the undocumented with driver’s licenses, he can‘t pander to the electrical monopolies that bilked the taxpayers out of billions, he can’t stonewall L.A. officials trying to solve the local health-care crisis, he can‘t hire $500-an-hour lawyers to fight off a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the state’s most neglected public-school students. As much as he might like to, Bill Simon can‘t do any of that because Gray Davis has already beat him to it.