Paradise Lost Essay, Research Paper
Peter Schrag presents the ills of California?fs current politics in an angry and persuasive tone. He says California used to be ?gboth model and magnet for the nation—in its economic opportunities, its social outlook, and its high-quality public services and institutes?h; however, California started to fade after the passage of Proposition 13, the initiative of tax limits (7). Schrag?fs work clearly shows what is the problem in today?fs California, and it is easy to understand even for those who have little knowledge of politics. By focusing on issues of ?gneopopulism?h which is easy to find in California?fs diversity, he succeeds in giving his readers the sense of crisis not only about California?fs politics, but also the national wide politics because California is the place ?gwhere the new American society is first coming into full view?h (23). Schrag says, about California politics, that:
For nearly a generation, there has been increasing focus among scholars, politicians, and journalists on the growing gaps in California—ethic, social, economic—between those who exercise political power and the larger population, and particularly those who are the most immediate users of its public services. What has gotten little discussion is the dynamic of the plebiscitary process itself. While it?fs ad hoc in nature—each measure is decided by voters on its own apparent merits without much reference to the wider context—it has a larger cumulative effect through which statewide majorities restrict the powers of local political majorities, which are often nonwhite. Almost by definition, it is also a device of impulse that tends to be only marginally respectful of minority rights or interests, and that lends itself to demagogic wedge campaigns designed to boost voter turnout for other political purpose. (21)
Schrag divides his project into five sections. The middle sections, ?gThe Spirit of 13,?h and ?gMarch of the Plebiscites,?h in which he carefully discusses each important measure in the last two decades, show why so many issues rose. In the first section, ?gGolden Moment,?h Schrag describes ?gCalifornia?fs heyday of post-World War ?U optimism?h and how it crumbled. Citations from magazines prove that California was a really paradise even from the nationwide view. Schrag also notices that the demographic change deeply relates to California?fs politics in the last two decades. The Watts riots, he tells us, was a reminder for ?gmillions of new Californians?h and ?ga powerful signal that, for all its sunshine and beauty, this new and fragile place provided no guarantee against the dark and the demonic in American life?h (46).
In the second section, ?gGood-bye El Dorado,?h Schrag focuses on the issues of public services which he calls ?gMississippification,?h infrastructure, ?gthe fundamentally changed government structure,?h and ?gsocial relations that California?fs tax revolt and its political progeny have produced,?h especially he pays particularly close attention to ?gMississippification?h of the public school system. The budge for the educational system use to be mostly financed by property taxation; however, the state government stopped to spend enough money to keep the high quality educational system after Proposition 13 passed. He describes today?fs California schools as ?gmigrant camp—row after row of drab wooden boxes of uncertain safety, most of them painted brown?h (83). It helps imagine easily California?fs schools with high densities of children and poor conditions. Older and affluent whites, Schrag tells us, care primarily about tax reduction, and they had disproportionate power because the majority of voters were whites. Many measures which reduced tax from rich people and increased from poor people, ?gwho use public services but vote in much lower numbers,?h passed, with the result that the gap between upper-middle class and low income class extended. Schrag shows important facts related to that class issue and how that class issue affected public services including the educational system.
Schrag shows us the background of Proposition 13 and their direct effects in third section, ?gThe Spirit of 13.?h He mentions the inflation in real estate values and elderly homeowners who do not have school aged children. He says, ?ga growing share of taxes was no longer going to schools and cops but to welfare and health, meaning to the poor and to the new foreign immigrants—and that even when it went to schools, it appeared increasingly to be schools for somebody else?fs children?h (139). This fact makes much sense why old Californians wanted to reduce their property taxes even though they knew that ?ganything terrible would happen to public services?h (149). Schrag also tells how Proposition 13 seriously affected California?fs politics. The large political power transferred from local government to Sacrament, and the power of all government to control revenues was constricted. Controlling the public services of all over the state without a control of revenues is much more difficult than manage the small district, like counties and cities. Proposition 13 became ?gboth fact and symbol of a radical shift in governmental priorities public attitudes, and social relationships that is as nearly fundamental in American politics?h (132). Schrag discusses Proposition 218, and he says that it ?ggave electoral privileges to the rich and wellborn?h (170).
In the next section, ?gMarch of the Plebiscites,?h Schrag focuses on ?gbroader implication of California?fs orgy of plebiscites?h and discusses measure after the passage of Proposition 13. He says that the voters have approved many initiatives ?gan average of four in each two-year election cycle?h after Proposition 13 passed (194). What becomes clear in this chapter is that the plebiscitary process is problem in California. Most voters and a large portion of media pay attention not on the government and the social welfare, but on their individual benefits. Much amount of money was spent on each measure, and supporters and opponents vehemently argued by using the mass media. Schrag says that the state government of California became a ?gmedia-based?h government. It is clear that California had anti-immigrants climate by Schrag?fs selection of measures. California politicians attacked programs for low-income Californians precisely at the time when California?fs demographic was changing rapidly. Politicians have been urging white voters to cut back on beneficial public services to original Californians.
Finally, Schrag concludes his work with some suggestions for ?gthe possibilities for a new political integration and a revitalized social ethic in California?h while he describes ?gthe contrary forces pushing even further toward a market-based governmental ethic?h (20). His work gives us a good opportunity for rethinking recent California and how voters, not only California?fs voters but also the others, should be.
Schrag, Peter. Paradise Lost: California?fs Experience, America?fs Future.New York: The New Press. 1998