Curt Smith: California dreamin' augurs New York nightmare

Curt Smith

In 1919, visiting the Soviet Union, journalist Lincoln Steffens predicted an absurdity: “I have seen the future and it works.” Unless New York state quickly changes, its failed future lies 3,000 miles away.

Not long ago, California meant freedom and opportunity. Suburbia was mostly middle-class and Protestant. Jews built Hollywood’s dream machine. Hispanic Catholics wed faith, work and family. Almost all subscribed to the hardscrabble life.

The Golden State exported hope: its greatest, Ronald Reagan. “(Some) see every day as April 15,” he said. “I see it as the Fourth of July.” Dust Bowl émigrés peopled the landscape: “Grapes of Wrath’s" Ma Joad from Oklahoma or Ohio. Today urban elites and slugs spawn government in freefall. If California were a country, it would be France.

For the last half-century, American trend has moved west to east: EST, Zen, marijuana and cocaine; currently, illegal immigration, multiculturalism and political correctness. Like a virus, they further threaten an already reeling Empire State. Welcome 2015: California Dreamin’ sires a Nightmare New York State of Mind.

If California were a painting, it would mix red tape, green-energy bureaucracy and black-and-blue taxpayer. Clough wrote, “Westward look, the land is bright.” In the last decade, the land of earthquake has brooked fiscal wind and fire. Doubling, the state budget bred America’s highest sales and income tax rate, lowest credit rating and current 10.1 percent jobless rate.

“People can vote with their feet,” said Reagan, and are. If California were a facelift, the patient would sue.

According to the American Legislative Exchange Council, 1.4 million more non-immigrants have left than entered California since 1998. In their place: illegal aliens, most from Mexico. The sanctuary city of San Francisco asks cops to hide them. One-fourth of California’s stunning $42 billion budget deficit stems from illegals’ health care, education and prison. Their nonpareil home foreclosure rate makes the state America’s second-worst offender. If California were on Wall Street, it would outjunk any bond.

“When a politician says (he’ll raise) taxes as a last resort,” George H.W. Bush said, “you know that’s one resort he’ll be checking into.” Recently, “fixing” the deficit, the Legislature resorted to borrowing $11.4 billion and taxing $14.2 billion in income, sales, gas and cars. Among other sites, it is unlikely to help Mendota, in the Central Valley, curb a 35 percent unemployment rate. Its mayor says: “People here are saying, ‘Are you a Third World country?’” The comparison offends, insulting, as it does, Sudan.

Comically, Gov. Schwarzenegger vows to keep California “from going off the cliff.” Earth to Terminator: Like culture, the cliff is gone. Example: “Self-esteem”s 1986 birth, saying Johnny’s work excels, even as it reeks. Another: San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom saying of Proposition 8: “Gay marriage is coming whether you like it or not.” When voters didn’t, Newsom said state clerks refusing to perform illegal gay or lesbian marriage should lose their jobs. Gays crash a church. Sean Penn scores faith in Oscar’s echo chamber. If California were an oxymoron, “Liberal Tolerance” would be its name.

What a package: religious bigotry, übertax and spend, and narcissism masked as self-esteem.

What a prospect: California’s body snatching what remains of the Empire State’s soul. Seeing the Left Coast burn, New York might be twice-shy about unemployment (here, 7.1 percent), deficit ($16 billion), and 150,000 taxpayers leaving since early 2008. Instead, Gov. David Paterson wants to enact 137 new taxes. We need to terminate his governorship, too.

Schadenfreude is a word meaning to revel in another’s misery. Few revel when bad things impale good people: here, the bleeding middle class. In Washington, the ultimate San Francisco

Democrat runs Congress. Will Nancy Pelosi’s ilk ruin New York, too?

Visit the once-Golden State. Recalling Steffens, ask if its future works. California’s lesson is as certain as Hollywood hyperbole:

Ultra-liberalism’s triumph means Main Street’s defeat.

Curt Smith is a former speechwriter to President George H.W. Bush and author of 12 books. E-mail him at

Daily Messenger