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Carol Platt Liebau

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Carol Platt Liebau - Columnist

Carol Platt Liebau is a senior member of the editorial board. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review.


Our Glorious Recall
Or, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love California”
[Carol Platt Liebau] 8/11/03

As a little girl, I distinctly remember reading that Mark Twain had once said, “When God made the world, he tipped it and all the nuts rolled to California.” No Twain collection records the quote, so perhaps I was misinformed – but to me, the quip was witty, and, I thought at the time, quite apropos.

After all, viewed from the vantage point of a Midwestern childhood in the mid-1970’s, California really did look crazy. Every flaky trend, from marijuana smoking to tie-dye to nude pool parties, all seemed to originate in the Golden State. Whenever television shows featured silicone-enhanced blondes in microscopic bikinis, they were always roaming the beaches of California. In fact, “The Brady Bunch” was being rerun on Nick at Night before I realized that the palm trees surrounding the home of this very normal family indicated that they lived in California – not Florida, as I had assumed as a child.

The Beach Boys might have wished that everyone could be a “California girl,” but I was quite happy where I was, thank you very much. Even as a college student on the east coast, witnessing the excitement of the California kids at the first snowfall elicited from me a wave of pity – clearly, beneath their façade of “California cool,” they were feeling the effects of a childhood bereft of sledding and snow days off from school.

So six years ago, when a mutual friend introduced me to my husband – we were all visiting Arizona at the time – I remember being skeptical. He seemed pretty wonderful, but I was convinced that the heart of a wild and crazy playboy lay beneath his intelligent, sensible demeanor . . . after all, he was a native Californian, third generation at that! Well, there can be no doubt that a sense of humor infuses the intelligent design shaping every life – 23 months later, and a mere13 days after a wedding in my home town of St. Louis, I found myself returning from a honeymoon to my new “home” in California. I worried about fitting in either with the statuesque blondes in the south or the hippies up north, but I decided that if my hero Ronald Reagan had loved it here, I could certainly thrive, too.

Since November of 1998, I have learned about California’s people, its politics, its climate, its geography and its traditions. But I never knew how much I had come to take pride in being a Californian until this week, when – in the midst of discussing the recall -- a friend on the east coast asked me, “Aren’t you embarrassed?”

Well, NO, I’m not. In fact, I’m proud. Although there is reason to be ambivalent about the potential implications of the recall (and the practice of governing through referenda in general), the people of California are to be commended, not disparaged – they have identified a problem (known as “Gray Davis”) and they have set out to fix it. In doing so, they have proceeded with their usual enterprise, brashness and utter unpredictability. Where else could a gubernatorial slate include pornographer Larry Flynt, 1970’s child actor Gary Coleman (“What you talkin’ ‘bout, Davis?”), the comedian Gallagher running on the “Watermelon” ticket, an adult film actress campaigning to make lap dances tax deductible – and Arianna Huffington, too?

None of these candidates will be elected, and their presence will not ultimately detract from the seriousness of the issues or the importance of the debate. But they will make the race, as a whole, much more entertaining – and remind all of us that, at least in California, even the least likely citizens are willing to dare to exercise their right to seek political office (and be roundly rejected in the attempt). Their very presence on the ballot proves that political office isn’t always reserved for the elite . . . and that politics need not always be deadly serious. The heterogeneity of the field is testament to California’s diversity – in its true sense, not the fashionable, the PC-laden version now in vogue – and we will hear about the dazzling variety of ideologies, backgrounds and agendas that will shape the political dialogue for the next seven weeks.

Uncharted territory lies ahead. But that seems appropriate for a state whose people are, at heart, pioneers. After all, Californians are the people with the courage and the enterprise either to have crossed the mountains from the east or the border from the south in search of a better life for themselves and their families. They are hospitable, good people who are generous to each other, and who, notwithstanding enormous differences, live together in this great state in surprising harmony. And for better or worse, they are always in the vanguard.

Where I once saw California’s eccentricity as a sign of weakness, I now know better. Our uniqueness isn’t just “weird” – rather, it’s symptomatic of a confident, robust and energized citizenry. And somehow, it’s charming.

For years, the media elites have been clucking their tongues at the political “apathy” of the average American. Well, we Californians are not apathetic – and we’re not about to let the glory days of the Golden State fade into distant memory. The operation of totalitarian governments is tidy – democracy can be messy. So be it.

Bring on the carnival. Bring on the circus. Let our neighbors to the east have a good chuckle at our expense. The people of California are strong enough and sensible enough to see the recall for what it truly is – a roar of outrage at a political system that has become too powerful, too arrogant and too unaccountable. Our Sacramento “masters” are about to be brought to heel. So let the campaign begin, and for the sake of California’s idiosyncratic, independent and brave people, may the best candidate win.

CRO columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA.


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