There was considerable consternation last week when a minor California politician from a place most people can’t find on a map offered the suggestion that the state should be split in two, a kind of red-versus-blue version of our once-golden place.
The proposal got a lot of knees jerking and a number of tongues flapping, and you have to wonder why. After all, the idea is so 1850s.
The socialist sector of San Francisco weighed in and said that this was a great plan — we could be finally be free of Republicans and start taxing people like crazy. Let our southern neighbors have their sunshine and their family values, the published screeching went, we have pot and political correctness on our side, so run, don’t walk, to our newly emboldened state.
Sadly, both sides of the secession debate got it wrong and for exactly the same reason. They want the public discourse to take place in a vacuum, where everybody is on the same side of the spectrum, a land of harmonic convergence because no one disagrees.
Jeff Stone, the Republican pharmacist from Temecula who made the latest call for splitting California along the ideological divide, maintains the move is necessary because the state has become ungovernable, overburdened by a crippling financial crisis that is causing businesses to flee.
And he’s right, up to a point, because California, Arizona, Illinois, Wisconsin and any number of states are now mirroring the federal government’s lead in being rigid and broke, and hunkering down along stringent political lines to a level of near-paralysis.
But Stone’s solution, which is to split California into a north and south configuration with the southern part consisting of Republican strongholds including Fresno, Imperial, Kern, Inyo, Madera, Mariposa, Kings, Orange, Tulare, San Bernardino and San Diego counties is the wrong answer. And no one knows that better than the residents of San Francisco who, like the citizens who lived under the politburo of the former Soviet bloc known as the USSR, understand the problems and pitfalls of a one-party system.
History shows us that pushing people into like-minded camps does not end political infighting, but rather increases it in a way that often translates into the kind of personal skewering exhibited by the liberals who run San Francisco, some of whom are deemed not liberal enough. In this model, a liberal can be deemed a moderate. One who dares push for fiscal restraint can be termed a conservative. The label “Republican” is trotted out as an opportunity to smite down opponents.
This was brought home with some clarity lastweek, when former chest-thumping Supervisor Chris Daly unleashed on the Huffington Post an attack via several current liberal mayoral candidates, essentially likening them to tea party members because, unlike himself, they back creation of new businesses, jobs and sensible housing policy.
Stone made essentially the same argument in explaining why the Southern California metropolis of Los Angeles was left off his new two-state list, because it has the same “liberal policies” that Sacramento does — citing as an example the city’s recently enacted ban on plastic grocery bags.
I realize that paper versus plastic is a big issue in certain quarters, but is it large enough to split states?
He also maintains that somehow keeping 13 million Republican-friendly citizens in a protected border is a good thing. Has he not seen what happens when you try and keep 13 Democrats inside a Petri dish? Quarrels, confusion, chaos. At some point the walls come down, as former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom found, whether you like it or not.
There may be some good arguments for splitting the nation-state of California in two, but it’s not going to be because its politics are so divided. That’s actually what makes it fascinating, a place where Hollywood celebrities and the descendants of the Dust Bowl equally coexist, often at the same Whole Foods store.
It will take something more tangible than political differences to cut California in half. Water might be a good start, or maybe car emissions.
But as much as it would like to interfere, San Francisco has no dog or pet guardian in this fight. In its own determined way, it seceded long ago.
Ken Garcia appears Thursdays and Sundays in The San Francisco Examiner. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.