Monday, January 31, 2005

Bear Republic

George Bush's election on Nov. 2 elicited a number of responses from "Blue" America - week-long drunken binges, inquiries into Canadian immigration - and this proposal from Californian Jeff Morrissette - why don't we just secede already? After all, California is the fifth largest economy in the world. California pays out far more dollars in federal taxes than we get back from the federal government. We've already signaled a willingness to go our own way on hot-button social issues like stem cell research. And, let's face it, the "Heartland" doesn't like us. Oh, they'll eagerly consume our cultural products, all the while proclaiming their moral superiority over us godless, fag-loving, tree-hugging, femi-nazi Sodomites and pretending that they aren't the ones eating up "Desperate Housewives," but gosh darn it, we're hardly real Americans out here on the Left Coast.

I'll admit, I've long been sympathetic towards the idea of an independent California, ever since I first realized that what I saw as a normal upbringing and culture, having been born and raised here, was often regarded as freakishly bizarre by my fellow Americans. Hey, so WHAT if we had naked hot-tub parties? And talked about karma, and learned Buddhist chants? And ate tofu and sprouts and decriminalized pot? What's so weird about that?

Well, it isn't so weird any more, and that's California's revenge. You're ALL doing yoga now, aren't you?? We create your entertainment, your cultural trends, your wine, your software (okay, so we share that with Washington). California Uber Alles, baby, and now we have the Governator to say it right. Kuh-lee-foh-nee-uh.

Ah, but back in the days of my youth, I had a different vision for an independent California. My friend Paul and I, stuck in a Beijing winter (and what the hell was THAT about? You leave water outside, and it turns cold, hard and SHINY! This never happened in San Diego...), used to obsess about this subject. We'd resurrect the California Republic, which already had a very cool flag. Jerry Brown would be our first President. At the time he was dating Linda Rondstadt, which was perfect - she could be First Lady, and sing our new national anthem (we were leaning towards "All You Need is Love" but were open to alternatives). We'd move the capital to Disneyland, but the rest of Orange County would need some work. Best case scenario, we'd plow all those ugly housing tracts under and return most of the county to oranges.

No wonder that when Jerry Brown announced his candidacy for President in 1992, I was one of the first through the door to volunteer. Not that I thought he'd win, but I knew that I had to be along for the ride. Working on the Brown campaign was one of those rare opportunities in life, the chance to check off an experience on one's existential list of Things To Do that you never thought you'd actually get to. Governor Moonbeam, the Governor of my youth, the guy who promoted solar power and wind power and talked about how small was beautiful, and what was so funny about California launching a satellite, anyway? That was what earned Brown the "moonbeam" tag from columnist Mike Royko while he was California's governor. And during the 92 campaign, Royko took it all back, admitting that he was wrong and Jerry was right; all this stuff he and much of the country had labeled flaky was instead visionary; he just couldn't see it back then.

I like to think that this is what characterizes California still; that we are all still gazing out over the horizon, across the vast Pacific, looking for our next vision.

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