Paradise Lost (1047 words) Essay

Paradise Lost
Peter Schrag presents the ills of California current politics in an angry and
persuasive tone. He says California used to be ?both model and magnet for the
nation?in its economic opportunities, its social outlook, and its high-quality
public services and institutes; however, California started to fade after the
passage of Proposition 13, the initiative of tax limits (7). Schrag work clearly
shows what is the problem in today California, and it is easy to understand even
for those who have little knowledge of politics. By focusing on issues of ?gneopopulism
which is easy to find in California diversity, he succeeds in giving his readers
the sense of crisis not only about California politics, but also the national
wide politics because California is the place ?where the new American society
is first coming into full view (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 plebiscite process
itself. While it`s 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, ?the Spirit of 13,?h and
?march of the Plebiscites, in which he carefully discusses each important
measure in the last two decades, show why so many issues rose. In the first
section, ?golden Moment, Schrag describes ?California heyday of post-World War
?U optimism 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 politics in the
last two decades. The Watts riots, he tells us, was a reminder for ?millions of
new Californians and ?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 (46). In the second section, ?good-bye El Dorado,
Schrag focuses on the issues of public services which he calls ?Mississippification,
infrastructure, ?the fundamentally changed government structure, and ?social
relations that California tax revolt and its political progeny have produced,
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.

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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


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