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Thursday, June 4, 2009

What the Confederacy and San Francisco Bay Guardian Have in Common

Posted By on Thu, Jun 4, 2009 at 4:20 PM

click to enlarge calhoun_thumb_300x352.jpg
Was secessionist John C. Calhoun the Bay Guardian's predecessor?

In December of 1860, the state of South Carolina declared independence from the U.S., setting the stage for four bloody years of civil war. In its written pronouncement of sovereignty, this first of the would-be Confederate states laid out the reason for its desire to split from the union: In a free and fair election, the people of the U.S. had chosen as their president a man opposed to the odious practice of slavery, which was cherished by powerful Carolinians.

I was reminded of the way of thinking about democracy that prevailed among 19th-century Southerners over the past two weeks as I've read a few San Francisco Bay Guardian stories advocating a partition of the state of California. The politics are different, but the underlying approach to government is the same: Paranoid disregard for people who don't share your political goals, coupled with the misbegotten belief that walling those people out will allow you, at last, to create a utopia of wild-eyed true believers who need never disagree.

The Guardian's cover story last week, by reporter Rebecca Bowe and executive editor Tim Redmond, pushed the idea of splitting California into several or more states. Redmond followed up on the idea in a blog yesterday on the 2010 gubernatorial race. "If we were electing a governor of the coastal counties between Sonoma and Los Angeles, Jerry Brown wouldn't even be a factor -- and a lot of smart, experienced progressives would have a shot at the job," Redmond wrote. "We wouldn't be facing this ugly choice of finding someone either bland or conservative enough to appeal to the Central Valley."

This is ugly stuff. Underlying Redmond's argument is the fundamentally anti-democratic notion that democracy doesn't have room for conflicting points of view. It also goes without saying that the Guardian's perspective is decidedly non-native. The idea of splitting coast from inland or north from south has its appeal to incomers who want to turn San Francisco and its environs into a liberal clubhouse. But to any thinking person with roots in this state, the proposal is bunk.

My great-great grandmother was from Mendocino County; my grandmother from Modoc County, in the state's barren northeastern corner; my parents -- both Democratic voters, no matter what Redmond and Bowe think they know about inland conservatives -- are from the Central Valley. I don't think I'm the only Californian who takes pride in the cultural, geographical and ethnic diversity of our state; in our ability to find common ground across that patchwork terrain; and in the way traveling or living among unfamiliar people and locales enriches our lives.

I want to share my state government with the Armenians, Hmong Vietnamese, and Mexican immigrants who live alongside conservative farmers in California's Central Valley -- even if the Guardian doesn't. There are a number of agreed-upon fixes to the state's way of doing business that can make it more governable and less prone to political and fiscal crisis. Partition is not one of them.

Democracy, Colonial-era Massachusetts Congressman Fisher Ames said, is like a raft: You'll keep bobbing along, but your feet will always be wet. Here's a message to the yahoos thinking seriously about divvying up the state into fiefdoms of ideological similarity: Your feet will always be wet. Get used to it.

Photo by cliff1066.

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Peter Jamison


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