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June 9, 2006
Dionne: Realism Is Not The Enemy Of Idealism

E.J. Dionne takes a hard look at the failure of Proposition 82 and gives liberals a truth they need to hear -- that tax and spend policies will not succeed any longer, even in a state as liberal as California. He advises liberals to start considering reality when it comes to proposing large and expensive government programs, and to make sure that they have a convincing argument before spending a lot of money trying to convince people to buy:

While the political world was obsessed with the Republican victory in a special election for a California congressional seat, the truly sobering news for liberals was in the statewide voting. Proposition 82, the ballot measure that would have guaranteed access to preschool for all of California's 4-year-olds, went down to resounding defeat, 61 to 39 percent.

Not only that, voters also rejected a $600 million bond measure for the state's libraries. A vote against libraries ? Yes, the bonds went down 53 to 47 percent.

And bear in mind that these spending measures appeared on a primary ballot at a time when Democrats were holding a fierce contest for their gubernatorial nomination, while Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger faced only token Republican opposition. There were roughly 500,000 more Democratic than Republican primary votes -- meaning that a significant number of Democrats voted against both propositions.

Progressives can find plenty of alibis. Instead they need to deal with the sources of voter skepticism about public spending.

E.J. makes a number of very good points about electoral strategies, especially about making sure that the celebrity endorser of such programs doesn't use state money to boost his election campaign for his desired referendum. (That's sort of along the lines of "Don't get involved in a land war in China" as far as received wisdom.) Be sure to read his refreshing and intelligent review of the loss.

However, I would also add that the liberals will find voter skepticism on the increase, especially in this age of New Media. Voters have become more educated about appropriations and bonding measures, and are much less likely to take a news story or a politician's promise at face value. Before, only a handful of journalists would dig into spending initiatives and pork-barrel projects, and usually those were assigned to these tasks by editors delivering some form of justice for real or imagined transgressions on the poor reporter temporarily assigned to oblivion. No longer; now we have hundreds of citizen journalists doing their own research and scouring the media for information on spending, and suddenly those beat reporters have gotten a lot more attention.

In this environment, and especially when both parties appear incapable in their existing configurations of controlling spending on federal or state levels, no new spending proposal with any significance will get much sympathy. Politicians will get pressure to fund new initiatives, no matter how worthy, by defunding unworthy programs already in existence. When taxation accounts for almost 20% of GDP, voters understand that government has plenty of our money already. That isn't likely to change simply because a celebrity tells us we should create another huge government program, even one as politically incompetent as Rob Reiner.

Politicians at every level should be on notice that we are watching them very carefully, and that will only increase as more tools become available for accountability. E.J. has it right when he says that liberals will have to work hard to convince people to spend money; even more, they will have to work hard to convince us not to stop spending it.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 9, 2006 6:07 AM

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