Back in years like 1936 and 1972, when California was in the midst of serious recessions, no Republican presidential candidate or surrogate would have dared bash California the way Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Peggy Noonan and others lately have.
Back then, this state was pretty safely Republican in presidential voting and no GOP bigwig would do anything to risk changing that.
But times have changed; California has become pretty safely Democratic in presidential and U.S. Senate votes, so the GOP has nothing to lose in making all manner of false and misleading claims about it.
We see this regularly here from a determined corps of right-leaning bloggers who almost never say anything positive about the state they call home, trashing it at every opportunity. Their constant tide of belittling commentary moved Gov. Jerry Brown to coin a new term – “declinists” – for them. Nevertheless, it has caused national pundits and television commentators to take a negative view of the state.
But was there merit in Romney’s likening California to financially troubled nations of similar size like Spain, Italy and Greece? (“Just kidding, in some ways” he quickly appended, in the manner of many whose supposed japes reflect their actual thinking.) Was Palin, the former vice presidential candidate, correct to call California “a cautionary tale” for the rest of America? Was former presidential speechwriter Noonan on target while blasting California on national television?
The left-leaning magazine The Atlantic quickly responded with a series of graphs and some expert quotes that among other things called comparisons between California and troubled European countries “superficial” and “silly.”
One thing for sure: The very same Republicans who blast California come here at every opportunity to fatten their personal pocketbooks and campaign funds. Romney, for one, has milked Californians for about one-fifth of his campaign dollars, mostly via a series of high-priced dinners and receptions in the foremost California hotels and in mansions of the ultra-rich who have somehow survived this state’s supposedly disastrous decline.
The Atlantic’s graphs (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/08/5-graphs-that-show-how-crazy-it-is-to-compare-california-to-greece/260939/) show California not only has a higher gross domestic product than any of the three European countries to which Republicans compared it, but has had far higher economic growth, lower unemployment, a far lower debt-to-gross domestic product ratio and far lower budget deficits.
In fact, California surpasses many other states, large and small (like Illinois and New York and Nevada to name three) in all those categories, and scores of others (yes, including Texas) in some of those departments, but is a convenient target because the numbers here are always far higher than in other states since this is by far the largest.
What’s more, a new report from the International Trade Administration, part of the Commerce Department, shows California exports growing rapidly, with first-half 2012 sales to foreign countries at $82 billion, a 6 percent increase over last year. And California continues to lead the nation in charitable contributions, kicking in about one-eighth of the national total, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Where Palin claimed California is “hostile” to small business, suffers “permanent high unemployment” and an “abysmal real estate market,” in fact exponentially more small businesses start up each year in California than any other state, said 2010 U.S. Census figures. Private sector employment here grew over the last year by a higher percentage than in any other state, reports the California Budget Project. Severe cuts in public employees keep unemployment numbers up, that report said last month.
The real estate market, down for the last three years because of the foreclosure crisis, ticked upward significantly this spring and summer and July figures showed unemployment down almost 2 percent here since the same time in 2011, with more than 300,000 new jobs added in California over the last year, despite all the public employee cuts.
That’s not to say this state has no problems. It certainly does. Roads are far more potholed than 10, 20, 30 and 40 years ago. Several cities have gone bankrupt over the last two years, in large part because of diminished property taxes caused by the foreclosure crisis combined with higher expenses including public employee pensions.
The reason for all the public employee cuts is also clear: lower property taxes caused by the housing foreclosure crisis. That crisis has also led to massive construction job losses.
Fix the housing problems brought on by large national investment banks (read: Lehman Bros., Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and others), none headquartered in California, whose disastrous lending and mortgage bundling practices were spurred by changes in federal – not state – law and you will solve most of California’s problems.
But exaggerations like Palin’s (“a $100 billion bullet train,” when the latest cost estimate is just two-thirds of that) and digs like Romney’s are no help, especially when neither Romney nor running mate Paul Ryan propose any fixes.
All of which means California has become a convenient target for cheap and inaccurate shots, in part because of the politically-motivated efforts of some Californians. This may aid Palin, Noonan and others who don’t know the facts, but is no help at all to California or its citizens.