Is California sane?

Is California sane?
Evans, Goldwater, Reagan: The Week magazine [disclosure: I’m running their ad but I don’t know whether I’ve sold a single subscription and, yes, that’s a hint and, yes, that’s conflict of interest] held another of its entertaining debates at Grand Central today. The topic: Is California crazy? The panel, led by Harry Evans: Ron Reagan; Barry Goldwater, Jr.; Tom Hayden; and Ed Klein. As those named marched into the room, it looked as if Sherman and Peabody — no, make that Wesley Clark — had run the Wayback Machine.

: Porn star and California gubernatorial candidate Mary Carey (aka Mary Cook) showed up, far away from her constituency. The Women’s Wear Daily reporters at my table immediately and excitedly agreed that they had to go over and find out what she was wearing. In her line of work, that’s rarely a question she’s been asked.

She said she’s not a politician and then — delightfully — sounded exactly like a politician. See, it’s easy:

“I should be governor because I’ve got lots of new ideas,” she said. “Radical problems need radical solutions.” Yup, except for the dress and what’s inside it, she could be any politician. If Hillary had her hair…

Harry Evans, making reference to Arianna Huffington’s departure from the race, said to her, “You didn’t pull out.” He gulped visibly when he said it. So did Tina Brown at the next table.

Then Mary outlined her platform: Legalize gay marriage to envigorate a California gay honeymoon industry… Put a live webcam in the governer’s mansion (“Imagine if we’d done that for Bill Clinton, it would have been very exciting”)… Lower the tax on cars… Put a tax on plastic surgery and breast implants. “I’m very serious!”

The room exploded in delight. Bill Simon, failed Californa gubernatorial candidate, who called in from the Schwarzenegger campaign, blurted out, “I want to switch my endorsement!”

As the laughter died down, Hayden looks around the room and says, “Well, New Yorkers, you’re all Californians now.”

: The pleasant surprise of the event is that I like Reagan: sensible, well-spoken, liberal (but not Hayden).

Toward the end, former Rep. John Brademas asked him why he shouldn’t start a recall campaign to oust Schwarzenegger as soon as he’s elected and then run as a Democrat to take the job himself.

“I’m not a Democrat,” said Independent Reagan.

“You sure sound like one,” said Brademas.

Reagan said that he has, in fact, heard Democrats talk about starting a recall effort once Schwarzenegger’s in. ‘Cause this one’s so much fun, eh?

: Tom Hayden argued that, yes, it’s all Gray Davis’ fault — but because Davis listened to the damned Democratic centrists and took money from big guys and shifted to the center, pissing off the liberals.

“He abandoned the grass roots,” Hayden said. “He took them for granted.”

Well, but it’s not the liberals who are getting rid of him.

: Barry Goldwater, Jr., is a cartoon character: crusty cowboy Barry with the Arizona leather complexion and the penchant for shouting dumb things at a high volume with pride.

On the role of government: “They’re there to … inspire inspiration!”

To Reagan: “You and I moved out of California because of too much government.” (Reagan says hold on, feller: “I got tired of the smog, the attitude, the expense.”

On the difference between New York and California: “New York’s just as crazy. When you order a chocolate milkshake, they give you chocolate ice cream. It should be vanilla ice cream.” (Reagan looked at first embarrassed by him and then charmed.)

On the recall: “The recall is a classic case of socialism’s failure.” (He keeps hitting that gong until Hayden explodes: “Socialism?! Where is the socialism?!” He’s a guy who’d know socialism when he sees it.)

: Much fun with ancestry.

Harry says to Simon, “You’re surrounded by famous names.”

Simon says, “I’m a junior myself.”

Ron corrects him: “I’m not actually a junor.”

At another moment, Hayden complains about Scharzenegger’s school program and how it won’t get funded unless the entire budget is ballanced and he calls this a case of “shall we say, Reaganomics… Ron.” Ron nods, “Thanks, Tom.”

When it seemed that Reagan had made a swipe at the idea of an actor being governor — he hadn’t — someone in the audience asked him about this and Ron said, “You’re referring, of course, to my father. My father certainly was an actor — I like to think a better actor than Arnold Schwarzenegger…”

: The most illuminating moment to me came when everyone agreed, to my surprise, that immigration — particularly illegal immigration — is the undercurrent that goes through the recall and the California attitude. Somebody asked whether that’s a bigger issue than economics. They didn’t disagree. They talked about people resenting illegal immigrants getting free medical care — because we’re humane — while too many working citizens are without health insurance. They talked about immigration and jobs.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this is a California issue, not an American issue. I don’t see that here.

: And that was pretty much that. Bernie Goetz, subway shooter, sat next to Elizabeth Spiers, media it person, at the head table. I sat near Eric Alterman, who kept editing a manuscript through the entire thing; busy, that Eric. Next to him was Tina Brown and we didn’t get to meet because she had to leave early.