During the course of a lengthy New York Magazine online discussion of why they think Obama will win the election, James Fallows of The Atlantic and Josh Barro of Bloomberg turn to the subject of California. They ponder if a Romney defeat will force moderation on the Republican Party, especially here. In the course of their back and forth, Barro lets fire with a brutal analysis of the political types in Sacramento of both parties that he encounters as a journalist.
The California GOP is a sort of unique basket case, and it's dysfunctional in much the same way that California government as a whole is dysfunctional. When there's not a presidential campaign going on, I actually write most about state and local-level fiscal policy. And when you meet with people in the legislature in Sacramento, the most striking thing is how stupid everybody is.
And it's partly because there is very little influence to be gained through being in the legislature. So much policy is determined by various ballot initiatives that have restricted the legislature's ability to make policy, and the legislature is tremendously polarized with decisions being made pretty much entirely by the leadership.
So, it's sort of a lame job, and it attracts hacks from both parties with very little in the way of ability to think critically about policy. I had to explain to a senior Republican member of the state Senate what a think tank does.
But this system is "working" in a sense — there is a fraction of seats in the legislature that is reliably Republican, and they get to fill them with people who have risen up in the ranks of the local Republican party organizations, and they seem to have gotten comfortable with the idea that they will never hold a majority.
I don't think that's true of the national GOP or of political parties in most jurisdictions. I think there will be, as we've seen through history, a limited amount of tolerance for losing all the time, and losses will push the party toward the center where it can win again.
James: Your California description makes me feel both better and worse — worse about the state, somewhat better about the rest of the country by comparison!