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The Morning After, the Mystery of Democracy Remains Unsolved

October 09, 2003|Jane Smiley | Jane Smiley, the author of many novels, lives in Central California.

I wonder how Arnold Schwarzenegger felt when he woke up Wednesday and realized he has to leave his lovely home in Southern California and head up to Sacramento, where he will have to make himself available to anyone and everyone around the state who has an idea, a plan, a thought, a policy.

I wonder also whether he is going to take his children out of their private schools and put them in public schools. It's OK if he waits until Christmas vacation to do it, but after that, I will be watching. Is he going to stop making movies? Is he going to move to Sacramento, or is he really going to fly back and forth in his private plane?

Arnold and the state are like a couple who go to Vegas on their first date and get married. It's OK to act on impulse, but you have to follow through. No one, but no one, has any idea whether Schwarzenegger can follow through.

I do think that it is best to remove 3% of the general fund from his grasp, though, and that's why I voted yes on devoting 3% of the general fund to infrastructure repair.

So what will happen next? I expect the Bush administration, which has been systematically punishing California for voting Democratic, to bend over backward to make straight in the desert a highway for our Arnold, so that he can return the favor in 2004.

This is a lesson I did not mention to my 11-year-old son when he went to the polls with me -- the lesson that in our day and age, Republicans are more equal than other citizens, the lesson that men like Karl Rove and Tom DeLay and George Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger are happy to eviscerate the American democratic process for some reason of wealth, ideology, religion, class or power that I truly don't understand.

I don't think much will change in the short run as Schwarzenegger replaces Gray Davis. The roads will get repaved and the schools will do the best they can and the counties will take up some of the fiscal slack.

But if the Republicans, who bought the recall to begin with, have their way, it will be a turning point in our national life, more important in some sense than the botched presidential election of 2000. Bit by bit, they have hollowed out everything we learned in school about how the republic works -- fair and honest elections, peaceful turnover of power, balance of power among the three branches of government.

By the time my son gets to vote, will his vote be just a sham, as votes are in any Third World country you can name, where the winning candidate scores 100%? Will the candidates be, like Schwarzenegger, mere corporate straw men, chosen for star power and smoothness in front of the camera, foisted upon voters who have no understanding of or interest in the issues?

The heavy turnout Tuesday might be a good sign for democracy, but it might not. In the end, I am afraid we have voted for narcissism, capriciousness, secrecy, fraud, ignorance and all the other qualities that Schwarzenegger brings to office, and we will deserve what we get. That's the imponderable mystery of democracy.

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