Is there a niche for sensible politics in California & America?

California-budget-crisis-bear-flagGiven the current state of American politics, and those of our state of California, our founding fathers might well consider not just turning over in their graves but boring deeper towards the earth’s core. Yet amidst the almost unceasing signs of discord and hyperbolic confrontation, there exists a more sensible approach which could help rescue our wobbling Republic.

Centrism has long been the subject of well-meaning advocacy but has lacked a class or geographic focus. It most defines the politics of the suburban middle. Much of the urban core — where Clinton and other Democrats often win as many as 80 to 90 percent of the vote — is now about as deep blue as the Soviet Union was red. For its part, the countryside has emerged so much as the bastion of Trumpism that MSNBC’s Joy Reid labels rural voters, “the core threat to our democracy.”

A niche for sensible politics?

Most Americans do not live in either the urban core or rural periphery; more than half live in suburban areas which nearly split their ballots in 2016 , with perhaps a slight edge for President Trump. Many suburban areas — not only in California or New York but in places like Fort Bend County, outside Houston — went for Clinton. Democrats won big recently in the Virginia suburbs, and did better in those in Alabama; both resulted in stinging defeats for Trump and the GOP.

To consolidate these gains, Democrats need to resist the tendency, most epitomized by the likes of Gov. Jerry Brown, to detest not only suburbs, but the entire notion of expanded property ownership, privacy and personal autonomy. Suburbanites may not like Trump’s nativism and grossness, but they do have an interest in preserving their way of life.

A more reasoned, problem solving approach seems the best course as well for Republicans. The most popular governors in the nation, for example, are not progressive firebrands like Brown or Washington’s Jay Inslee, both under 50 percent approval. Nor are right-wing firebrands so popular; Kansas’ Sam Brownback wins plaudits from less than a quarter of his electorate. They are measured politicians like Maryland’s Larry Hogan and Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker, Republicans from deep blue states with roughly two-thirds approval.

Breaking with the bad

These political leaders suggest a new possibility to circumvent the red-blue, coast-heartland divides tearing the country apart. It could also lead to an end to the spasmodic political upheavals which either favor core cities, as was the case with President Obama, or now President Trump’s base in the more dispersed heartland.

One idea has been to promote an independent candidacy of Ohio GOP Gov. John Kasich and Colorado’s John Hickenlooper, who have worked on health care reform together. Both men are thoughtful, come from swing states and enjoy high popularity ratings. Sadly, Kasich, to date, has backed away from such a campaign, although perhaps the combination of a future Trump meltdown and a more pronounced Democratic shift to the left, could make him reconsider.

Veteran political observer Lou Cannon suggest that a more centrist, common-sense politics has a market. Independents are a growing trend, now accounting for 40 percent of the electorate, that is particularly marked among millennials. Both major parties, deservedly in my mind, are near record lows in terms of popularity among voters. Skeptics counter that polarization is growing and that many independents remain largely adherents of one party or the other, even if they detest their leaders.

How about California?

California is widely seen as a one-party state, dominated largely by rabid progressives. Yet “decline to state” voters are growing and now larger than Republicans. Surprisingly, the Democratic preference has also dropped over the past 25 years from 49 to 45 percent.

Right now the best hope for independents lies in the candidacy of environmentalist Michael Shellenberger, co-founder of the Oakland-based Breakthrough Institute. Unlike many of his green allies, Shellenberger has the courage to denounce climate policies that create higher housing and energy prices, in the process stunting upward mobility.

Shellenberger points out that the current Brown policies have not done so well in reducing emissions, as recently documented in the green magazine Grist. The main reason for last year’s emissions drop turned out to be surge in hydropower, from last year’s wet weather. Shellenberger traces the state’s less than stellar performance as well to the shutdown of nuclear power, arguably the most effective way to reduce carbon. More important still, he sees a state under the control of a corrupt political machine, first crafted by John Burton in the 1960s, dominated by “public employees and green energy companies.”

Unlike our self-styled progressive leaders, Shellenberger favors policies that address climate without undermining the middle and working classes. He defends “the California dream” and accuses the front-runner, former San Francisco Mayor (surprise!) Gavin Newsom of “talking more about Trump” than assessing the state’s real needs.

Best of all Shellenberger epitomizes the notion that politicians should address real problems, rather than posturing for the adoration of the media, celebrities and billionaires with clearly too much money and time on their hands. “Does it matter if a policy is liberal or conservative,” he asks. “Who cares? What matters is what works.”

Originally published in the Orange County Register.

Cross posted at New Geography.

Editor of NewGeography.com and Presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University

Comments

  1. Kotkin reverts to form, in promulgating the prospects of another “greenie” who will create Shangri-La in CA once again, by reducing carbon……note to Big Ag: There go your crop yields…..and having the State continue dictating to us how we should live.

  2. To give you an idea of how starved the networks are for something derogatory to say about President Trump I offer the following. President Trump allegedly spoke of Haiti being something on the order of a s—hole.Whereupon every Democrat/socialist north of the equator immediately loaded their pants and passed out. I can understand most of this as the only Democrat/socialist to ever go to Haiti was ex-President Bill Clinton. Bill went, saw the s—hole, promptly screwed it and caught the next flight out.

    • UpChuckLiberals says

      If the S-holes are so wonderful, why aren’t the rich elites retiring there to get away from Trump? Why don’t they vacation there instead of Cannes.

  3. ambrjak, you are absolutely correct! Sure didn’t see the constant MSM bs over that one did we? To answer the title of this article, the answer is “NO” the State of California has been robbed and pillaged for way to long to be saved.

  4. How to convince Democrat leftists that a communist state would not be an instant utopia? They so believe this fallacy that it has almost become a religion to them.

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