Posse Up, California Democrats

The California Democratic Party convenes in Los Angeles this week for its annual meeting.

John Wayne, the legendary Republican actor, holds the key to the best strategy.

How so? As Garry Wills shows in his book John Wayne's America, Wayne's popularity has continued, in fact increased, although he made his last film in 1976. Wills attributes this popularity to a deeply American quality that Wayne came to represent: what we call the "posse up" instinct. That is, when confronted by bad guys, Americans like to gather a posse, go get 'em and save the town.

Americans do NOT like to form committees to study the bad guys, to negotiate with factions, or to hear how hard or complex or dangerous the posse's job may be. They like to get it done.

The California Democratic Party faces more "bad guys" today than ever before: the state has 12% unemployment, a housing crisis, a budget crisis, an education crisis, and a health care crisis. Government approval ratings are at single digits for the first time in history. You have heard it all already.

So the party's 3,000 delegates will respond to those "bad guys" by doing what? By debating and amending a 9,000-word party platform that addresses 23 issues ranging from "business and the economy" to the last category, "world peace." No kidding, "world peace" is the last category.

The executive summary lists 12 priorities. The last? "Fiscal common sense, responsibility and accountability." That order is surprising given California's present fiscal circumstances.

While the issues are important, focusing on the entire platform right now is not a call to "posse up." Business as usual is a slow (or maybe fast) death for the party; it allows the bad guys to escape and continue to run wild.

Jerry Brown is making a genuine attempt to ride to our rescue. We like and respect Mr. Brown, but the hard truth is that no one person can be the sheriff in modern California. Rather, we all need to channel John Wayne and go after the real bad guy, together.

The real bad guy is the system we all have built: the initiative process and its consultants, the lobbying culture that profits from inexperienced legislators created by term limits, minority rule of the budget, political disengagement and so on. Together that equals one giant bad guy. That bad guy is causing horrible, daily collateral damage to our constituents as we nuance non-systemic change.

Democrats need to focus, focus, and then focus some more on solving this deep problem. The only real way to do so is to call for a state constitutional convention and reinvent the way government works in California. Not because Jerry Brown won't be a good governor, but because no governor--or legislature--can successfully address our state's needs without a system change.

Respected, experienced California leaders say, "Well, it's too risky to have a convention. 'They' could repeal various constitutional rights....ANYTHING could happen then. Let's do it one step at a time."

In reality, that is the best argument for the convention. "Anything can happen" means that significant things will happen. That is exactly what we need. Instead of fearing unknown consequences, we must accept and trust each other to make the right big things happen.

Democrats must call for the convention because our constituents are at the greatest risk. The coming implosion and bankruptcy of our state, county and city governments will hit the "little guy" the hardest. Let's not let that happen on our watch.

Folks, it's time to make history by pioneering a new future. California Democrats, Independents, and, maybe, even a few Republicans will "posse up" for that ride.