October 8, 2003  ·  Lessig

I was, at least. The recall provision is still stupidly crafted. But the results last night are as a democracy should be. A clear majority voted to recall the governor. And more people than supported Davis voted to elect Arnold Schwarzenegger.

He wasn’t my first choice. But it is interesting that the two top candidates “started” their life in the US in poverty. Anyone who gets as far as either did deserves our respect. And we Californians can hope that some of the benefit of the hard work and luck that has marked Mr. Schwarzenegger’s life might now pass to California.

  • Tyler

    It is amazing to me the number of people calling the recall in California a ‘subversion of democracy’. The recall in California is just the opposite – it is the very essence of ‘rule by the people’. California’s system of action initiated by the people, in the form of Ballot Propositions, and the recall are much closer to true democracy than what we have in the rest of the country.

    The founders were deathly afraid of the people, as evidenced by the comments in Federalist #10 regarding the ‘tyranny of the majority’. Remember – the Founders did not give us a democracy, they gave us a Representative Republic. Democracy is a two-edged sword!

  • Ed Lyons

    Well, Professor – I’m glad you see it that way. (I wondered how you’d react). I think the educated, liberal establishments (print journalism editorial boards, academia, etc.) were completely taken by surprise here by the breadth, depth and diversity of the support for the recall and Arnold.

    Your fellow ’49ers apparently are gambling that charisma, a popular mandate, and leadership will create solutions to problems that stymied intelligence and experience. We shall see.

    As I know that you are interested in the relationship between blogging and politics, it is important to note that throughout this recall hysteria, *the* opinion of record was the blog of Sacramento Bee coumnist Dan Weintraub. His blog is called the “California Insider” and was the must-read source for everyone obsessed with the recall. (It was so popular, that the jealous Bee editorial board started its own blog mid-recall, called ‘Fly on the Wall’) I think this blogging mega-success will change how political campaigns are covered by roving opinion writers.

    – Ed

  • http://davidgoodwin.net dave

    I don’t find Arnie’s win surprising, given that his face was on the front of many papers for the last few weeks. I had never heard of any of the other candidates until last light.

    Doesn’t the USA have laws governing equal news coverage of candidates?

    On a related note, Arnie’s Terminator 2 film was screened last week. At each ad break the screen showed ‘Arnold Schwarzenegger – Man of Action’ for a few seconds. Free political advertising?!


  • Fly on the Wall

    I see the coup attempt succeeded. Oh well, as one pundit put it last night, the thing about democracy is that even stupid people get to vote.

    Is this democracy? Well, in the sense that people went out and voted, yes. But ask them why they voted for Arnold and the answers are lacking. Charisma? Leadership? That’ll solve things in the morass that is California politics. Where does Arnold stand on the issues? Oh, that’s right, we don’t know. Hey, for the Republicans all that matters is he had an (R) after his name. For the Democrats, hey, he’s famous and how cool is that to have Gov. Terminator?

    People get the government they deserve. As odious as Davis was, the problems he was blamed for deserved to have had blame spread all around. As for Arnold, I can only hope this article doesn’t contain even a shred of truth. Because if it does, the people of California just acted in their worst possible interests all in the name of celebrity.

    Democracy is great when people act to fully inform themselves. When they don’t, however, all it takes is propaganda and you can do just about anything you want.

  • http://pobox.com/~joehall joe

    Imagine that California is an airplane. We’ve just voted, by a slim margin (5%), to throw the pilot off of the plane (or restrain him, at least). In addition, we’ve voted to let Arnold fly the plane… eventhough he’s never flown a plane before. The person who got the next highest amount of votes is the plane’s co-pilot. As well, we’re trusting that his advisors can direct him how to fly the plane… “No, push that button!!!”


  • http://www.mcluhan.utoronto.ca/blogger Mark Federman

    Lawrence, you were right the first time. The vote in California is not democracy, but the reversal of democracy. For your sakes, I only hope Arnold has better advisors than does GWB. From up here, it looks like Hasta la Vista, Democracy!

  • swatter

    The people elected Arnold Schwarzenegger by a wide margin — that is democracy in action. For better or worse, millions of people voted against the political elites.

    Now it’s time to give Schwarzenegger a chance. The guy has succeeded at everything he has pursued, going from body building, to acting, and now politics (pretty amazing from where he started, as Larry notes). No one should underestimate the guy. Just rent Pumping Iron: his drive to succeed is impressive, almost scary.

  • Nick

    “The people elected Arnold Schwarzenegger by a wide margin � that is democracy in action.”

    Why did people elect Arnold Schwarzenegger by a wide margin? The answers to that question are scary, and totally undermind democracy.

  • Mary

    The vote only signifies the opinion of a portion of the registered CA voters, which only represents a portion of the adult Californians, which only represents a portion of the 38 million Californian citizens. Liberal media should not join the steamroller like Camejo and endorse Arnold as the choice of the people, because he is only for chosen people.

  • Undemocratic

    I agree that people should have the power to recall elected officials, but California’s “direct democracy” system of ballot propositions is one of the worst systems of democracy imaginable. To grant pseudo-legislative powers to the voting public is indeed the “tyranny of the majority”: a majority of people decide upon a measure which, if adopted, is imposed from the top down upon the totality of the citizenry.

    Our laws should be based upon objective principles of justice. Laws should not represent the will of the majority unless the will of the majority so happens to coincide with justice.

    Could our Bill of Rights survive a national system of direct democracy?

  • Neil S

    The question is, what percentage would Shwarzenegger have got if it was a direct choice between him and Davis.

    A lot of the people who chose Shwarzenegger chose him as their second choice, with Davis as their first.

  • Tyler


    How do you know this? Was there a poll to that effect? Was there a report in a newspaper or online somewhere?

  • Anonymous

    I was really disappointed to see Lawrence Lessig, of all people, say that Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn’t his first choice! Somebody who groped as many chicks as that dude did – I mean didn’t – ought to be any thinking man’s first choice. After all, Adolf Hitler was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first choice. He said so himself. Adolf Hitler!? Yep, that’s what he said, isn’t it?

  • Patrick Ryan

    In Europe governments at national level — and also at the EU level — can and are dissolved on occasion. The worst example is of course Italy. But I just don’t buy the slippery slope argument (not that that argument has been advanced in this thread, but I have seen it often). So for what it is worth I do not buy the argument that this recall situation is going to become a norm, either in California nor in other states. Indeed, the provision could be crafted better, but it was the people’s choice to put the provision in there, a state-level decision, and I think what we saw was a great example of federalism at work. Frankly I have no idea whether Schwarzenegger is the right candidate or not (I could not vote since I am a resident of Europe and anyhow registered in another state) so I had the benefit of not having to make a choice. One sort of side comment, however, which I have heard many times in the past day from a European –or perhaps better stated Austrian perspective– the Austrians are **totally** convinced that Schwarzenegger will make it to presidency. There is the Constitutional hurdle, of course. I tell my Austrian friends about the Constitutional hurdle, but they are all convinced that it is an archaic provision that is incompatible with our modern immigrant society, and that it is something that the US will ultimately overturn. They think it will be overturned for Arnold’s sake. I’m not willing to take that leap, but the idea is an interesting one.

  • Nick

    *sigh* Take the leap. Orrin Hatch has already introduced a measure to amend the constitution to allow someone like Schwarzenegger to run for the Presidency. See this article for example.

  • http://improbable.org/chris/ Chris Adams

    Patrick – I quite agree about this not becoming the norm: Arnold could not have won against a less odious governor. He had few friends even among the Democrats – their main concern was losing control of the office, not keeping Gray in it.

  • http://www.mcluhan.utoronto.ca/blogger Mark Federman

    Schwarzenegger for President? Sigh… It seems an obvious path for a country that is completely hypnotized by the cult of celebrity. But then again, his qualifications are no better nor no worse than the current occupant of the White House.

    However, I’m old enough to remember when Henry Kissinger was sufficiently popular – a celebrity for his prominence with regard to world diplomacy, if you can believe it – for the constitutional amendment suggestion to be raised to allow him to run for President.

    God bless America… it needs all the blessings and help it can get during this very trying period of history.

  • Neil S

    Just to clarify – It was just speculation that Schwarzenegger may have been most people’s second choice. There must have been some overlap between Schwarzenegger voters and No recall voters. If the vote was calculated differently (e.g a single election that included Davis and Schwarzenegger), the result could have been different.

  • Owen

    The strongest argument for change in government is not the occasional anomaly like Arnold, it’s the continual and virtually automatic reelection of entrenched, interest-bound legislators whose primary focus is on reelection, not governing. In my callow youth I opposed term limits as undemocratic. Now, with the perspective of having lived through too many unproductive administrations and legislative sessions, I think they may be the only hope for democracy.

    But recall…nah! The California model allows for wealthy, disgruntled and media-savvy interest groups to hijack election results at will. Unless an incumbent is tried and found guilty of malfeasance, we should let them have the time to do what we elected them to do in the first place…not look for instant gratification. Next election…hold them accountable.

    Arnold’s not the problem — the system is.

  • http://www.bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Neil, it appears that you’re struggling very hard to escape reality. While nobody knows what would have happened if there were a Davis-Schwarzenegger heads-up contest, there is plenty of reason to believe the outcome would have been the same and no reason to believe otherswise.

    A year ago, Davis only polled 47.3% of a low-turnout election, running against a very lackluster Bill Simon, a man with less poltiical experience, charmisma, and intelligence than Mr. Schwarzenegger. If that was the best Davis could do against a null Republican with staunchly hard-right positions on abortion and immigration, you’re really pressing the envelope to imagine he’d do better against a popular hero.

    Owen, it may surprise you to know that California already has a term-limits law in effect, and it’s managed to do two things: 1) make the machines stronger, because citizen-politicians don’t have the name ID to raise money on their own; and 2) make the governor stronger, because the legislators aren’t around long enough to understand the issues and organize meaningful programs.

    The main problem with California politics is the lack of significant media coverage of Sacramento, and with a celebrity in town and national and international attention on the system, this very well could change, at least for a while.

    Left-wingers bitter about the recall would do well to remember that democracy is often not the prettiest system, but on balance it remains the least of the evils.

  • http://www.livejournal.com/users/tkil/ Tkil

    A clear majority voted to recall the governor. And more people than supported Davis voted to elect Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    I’m curious how you came to this conclusion. 45% voted to keep Davis vs. 55% voting to recall; Schwarzenegger got 49% of the votes as the potential replacement. If the replacement votes were evenly distributed across all voters, then Schwarzenegger only received 49% of 55%, or about 22% of the votes; for him to have gotten more than the 45% that Davis received, he would have to be selected by more than 90% of “yes to recall” voters — which strikes me as unlikely.

    Oh well. Here’s to three years of the Governator.

  • tas

    Wasn’t a conclusion he came to actually, the number of votes (not just percentages) were on the link to CNN that he gave… Schwarzenegger received 3,743,431 votes, whereas fewer people — 3,559,436 — voted for Davis (i.e. “No” for recall).

  • http://www.eire.com/ Antoin O Lachtnain

    I think people voted for Arnold because he meant something to them, and because they had an opportunity to make a difference. Most politics is meaningless to people and most of the time it doesn’t make any difference what way you vote. This was different. Who wouldn’t want to have the Terminator for Governor?

    The big problem now is how he can live up to the high standard he has set for himself through his movies. It’s hard for aeven an wily old experienced politician to make a real difference. For the sake of politics and politicians everywhere, let’s hope this guy can.