Victor Davis Hanson: One California for me, another for thee

April 4, 2014 

No place on the planet is as beautiful and as naturally rich as California. And few places are more absurd.

Three California state senators are either under felony indictment or already have been convicted.

State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, made a political career out of demanding harsher state gun-control laws. Now he is facing several felony charges for attempting to facilitate gun-running. One count alleges that Lee sought to provide banned heavy automatic weapons to Philippines-based Islamic terrorist groups.

State Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, who had succeeded one brother, Thomas, in the Assembly and was succeeded by another brother, Charles, now faces felony charges of wire fraud, bribery, money laundering and falsification of tax returns.

State Sen. Roderick Wright, D-Inglewood, originally entered politics as a champion of social justice. Not long ago, the Democratic leaders of the California Senate in secretive fashion paid $120,000 in taxpayer funds to settle a sexual-harassment suit against Wright. But this time around, not even his fellow senators could save Wright, who was convicted earlier this year on eight felony counts of perjury and voter fraud.

What is the common denominator with all three suspended senators — aside from the fact that they still are receiving their salaries?

One, they are abject hypocrites who campaigned against old-boy insider influence-peddling so they could get elected to indulge in it. Two, they assumed that their progressive politics shielded them from the sort of public scrutiny and consequences that usually deter such deplorable behavior.

Criminal activity is the extreme manifestation of California's institutionalized progressive hypocrisy. Milder expressions of double standards explain why California has become such a bizarre place.

The state suffers from the highest combined taxes in the nation and nearly the worst roads and schools. It is home to more American billionaires than any other state, but also more impoverished residents. California is more naturally endowed with a combination of gas, oil, timber and minerals than any other state — with the highest electricity prices and gas taxes in the nation.

To understand these paradoxes, keep in mind one common principle. To the degree a Californian is politically influential, wealthy or well-connected — and loudly progressive — the more he is immune from the downside of his own ideology.

Big money is supposed to be bad for politics. But no money plays a bigger role in influencing policy than California's progressive cash, from Hollywood to Silicon Valley. Billionaire hedge-fund operator Tom Steyer is canonized, but he is on track to rival the oft-demonized Koch brothers in the amount of money spent on influencing policymakers and getting his type of politicians elected.

Nowhere are there more Mercedes and BMWs per capita than in California's tony coastal enclaves. And nowhere will you find more anti-carbon activism or more restrictive laws against new oil production that ensure the highest gasoline prices in the continental United States for the less well-off.

California's reserves of natural gas exceed those of nearly every other state. And in California, electricity prices are the highest in the nation. The cost falls on those in the interior and Sierra who suffer either from scorching summertime temperatures or bitterly cold winters. Those who set energy policies mostly live in the balmy coastal corridor where there is no need for expensive air conditioning or constant home heating.

In drought-stricken California, building new Sierra Nevada dams and reservoirs was long ago considered passé, but not the idea of diverting precious stored water from agricultural use to help out fish. Yet the waters of the Sierra Nevada Hetch Hetchy reservoir are exempt from such fish diversions, apparently because they supply 80% of San Francisco's daily water supply.

High-speed rail is billed as the transportation of the future in California. But its progressive coastal boosters believe that it should first be tried out on farmers in sparsely settled rural areas rather than in the high-density Bay Area or Los Angeles.

In California, open borders and non-enforcement of existing immigration law are also popular progressive causes. But the immediate impact of illegal immigration on public schools is circumvented for the elite by the growing number of private prep schools along the coast.

Professing that you are progressive can be wise California politics. It means you sound too caring ever to do bad things, while the costly consequences of your ideology usually fall on someone else. And that someone is usually less hip, less wealthy and less powerful.

Criminal activity is the extreme manifestation of California's institutionalized progressive hypocrisy. Milder expressions of double standards explain why California has become such a bizarre place.

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution and Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of "The Savior Generals: How Five Great Commanders Saved Wars That Were Lost — From Ancient Greece to Iraq." Email: author@victorhanson.com.

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