Recalling Reagan

In trying to remove Gov. Ronald Reagan from office, liberal activists spawned the Davis recall and a host of other political ills

Perhaps it will even make us smart enough to fulfill Ed Koupal's dream of direct democracy tempered by restraints on political spending. And this time around, those restraints should apply -- specifically -- to political campaigns that pay signature-gatherers to promote initiatives and recalls meant to short-circuit the workings of a messy but time-tested form of government that most of America uses, most of the time. It is known as representative democracy, and it is something California needs to go back to, if it is to have much of a future.

To test the general thesis that the gubernatorial recall had made California politics into a festival of phoniness, I attended a political rally earlier this month at 16th and Mission streets. There, Sophie McGee, a brash twentysomething with fashionably straightened hair, surveyed the crowd of sign-toters and television cameramen, turned to a girlfriend, and scowled. "I wish they'd turn the cameras on me; I'd tell them that's not what the Mission looks like," McGee said. "They should get the heroin addicts out from up in the hotels. They just trucked those people in so it would look good."

McGee had a point about the otherworldly nature of the gathering, a choreographed "inner-city" campaign stop for gubernatorial candidate Arianna Huffington. The event immediately followed a California leftist summit at the Mission Street offices of the Global Exchange human rights advocacy group, where Huffington and Green Party candidate Peter Miguel Camejo reached a vague agreement to "work together" to motivate left voters. Huffington, in an executive's pantsuit, tight-fitting patterned blouse, and dagger-toed pumps, impressed in person both as a prettier version of Raisa Gorbachev and as an unlikely galvanizer of the left. (After all, she's the same millionaire Greek socialite who helped her former husband spend $30 million trying to be a Republican U.S. senator and subsequently became a muse of the Gingrich Revolution.)

After the summit ended I got into an elevator a couple of seconds before Huffington's entourage. She crowded in ahead of her handlers, momentarily sized me up, then gripped my palm sideways and squeezed.

"Ohmigawd," I realized, "a soul brother handshake."

Moments later she stepped outside to the 16th and Mission BART station, where a handler thrust into her arms a 4-year-old African-American girl and told Huffington the child's name was Jasmine.

"By the time Jasmine goes to California schools," Huffington said into a bullhorn, "there should be schools worth going to."

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