Saturday, November 13, 2010

315 / Crackpot Realism

California Crackup is a very good book about our current political situation. It does a great analysis of our political and governmental problems, and it proposes a list of very convincing "fixes" for those problems.

The difficulty, I suppose, is that this is not a book that is intended to be of "academic" interest. The authors clearly want Californians to try to enact the "fixes" they propose, and these are not minor "tweaks" to the current system. Going from a bicameral to a unicameral legislature, for instance, would be pretty noticeable, even to voters who aren't paying much attention to the details.

The reforms called for in the initiative process are also substantial. So is going to a system of proportional representation in multi-member political districts. Not as truly radical, at least in a systemic way, are the proposals to establish a "paygo" requirement for all new expenditures, and to devolve more legislative responsibility to local governments (concurrently providing local governments with more money, too). These ideas may not be as systematically radical as the other proposals in the book, but they are probably almost as hard to accomplish.

Hard or not, California Crackup insists that we would be wrong to try to temporize. The book strongly advocates that we make some "real" and "fundamental" changes in our system of government, and calls more modest efforts, like those proposed by California Forward, as "crackpot realism," quoting the sociologist C. Wright Mills.

I like that phrase, "crackpot realism." So often, we are told to "be realistic," as though the current realities we confront are somehow unchangeable. But they are not. The stupid idea, when we think about the political realities that we create by our own actions, is to assume that we can't really make the changes we need to make to do what is the "right" thing. Only "crackpots" would think that. A genuine political "realism" will demand that our politics supply a real (not just an apparent) solution for our problems.

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