There’s a word missing from Bill Maher’s recent ode to liberal governance in California: unemployment. The state has the fourth-highest jobless rate in the country. So while the budget might be balanced–thanks to Gov. Jerry Brown’s accounting tricks, taking $500 million from California’s underachieving cap-and-trade revenues–its economy is slow, its pensions are among the nation’s worst and it is still losing residents to other states.
Put another way: California is a great place to be liberal and rich enough, or unfeeling enough, to ignore the consequences for other people. The HBO comedian, who kicked $1 million into Barack Obama’s super PAC coffers in 2012, is speaking for a caste of media super-celebrities who have seen the state remade in their image (his analysis is largely a snarky play on a recent Rolling Stone paean to Jerry Brown’s “miracle”).
Maher at least has the good sense to be somewhat self-deprecating about the place, throwing in jokes about almond milk and body piercing. He mocks the idea of American exceptionalism, noting that California comes close to imitating Europe–successfully, in his view. Actually, the state remains in a class of its own, both good and bad. It still is the most innovative and create place in the world, from Silicon Valley to Hollywood.
It also has, as Victor Davis Hanson frequently points out from his perch in the state’s rural Central Valley, one of the richest agricultural endowments on the continent. And yet it consistently underperforms. Its middle class is in flight from the high cost of living and dwindling job opportunities. It has attracted an overwhelming number of illegal aliens who form an alternative third-world nation within, beyond the cares of the coastal set.
Many of the experiments in which Maher takes pride–high-speed rail, for example–are already failures. The New York Times, no less, recently reported on the failure of efforts to encourage eco-friendly drivers in lefty Santa Monica to take up electric cars. Now the foot soldiers of Obama’s campaign army are trying to promote Obamacare in the state, to little avail: hardly anyone in the state eligible for it seems interested in purchasing it.
Culturally, and technologically, yes–California remains on the cutting edge. And there are those–like me!–who continue to fall in love with the Golden State. But it is largely living off the legacy of Republican governors Maher loves to hate–Ronald Reagan most of all. Meanwhile, the state’s voters cringe in anticipation of higher taxes and spending from a one-party government. The model works for a few. Not for most, and not for long.