RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: In the end, the recall election in California has become a contest of Republicans versus Democrats.
I am going to run for governor of the state of California. ( Cheers and applause )
RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: But when it started this summer, and even though the recall drive was subsidized by a Republican millionaire, an excellent madness was tapped in California... and then came a gusher. In a state where the majority of registered voters lately have not bothered to vote-- such is the public's judgment of both political parties-- suddenly there was color and humor and noise, a spangled circus parade: Strongmen, showgirls, midgets, pornographers, punk rockers. Political commentators on the far eastern shore of America stepped up to say what they always say: That Californians are loony. Well, hey nonny-nonny, though "loony" is not quite the right word. It's not the moon that has held sway here, it's the sun. Or is it too much wind?
Joan Didion wrote a wonderful say about Californians maddened by the Santa Ana winds that blow hot through the mountain passes. The extenuation of the conventional east coast diagnosis has attributed California's hysteria to the shoreline. Edmund Wilson visited California in the 1920s and discovered in balmy San Diego the highest suicide rate in the country, the highest rate of depression. Americans who had grown up believing that the future lay always westward had come up against land's end.
What I have come to appreciate most about California is the creative confusion that results from the convergence of alternate points of view. Asians speak of the West Coast as the beginning of the continent. Easterners call this the end of the line. And Mexicans speak of this most western place as el Norte.
So we live in a state where people are simultaneously coming and going, where up is also down, where the end is the beginning. Californians are famous for adding initiatives to the ballot one year, only to rescind them the next. One year we tax ourselves; another year we prohibit tax increases. One year we elect a governor; a few months later we sign a petition to recall him from office. The Shakespearean king of old was instructed by his fool -- very well. If California is a place of madness, Americans would do well to attend to our theatricals. We played with chaos this summer in California, admittedly at our own expense. The recall election is costing California money, and it establishes a precedent for future chaos.
But the parade of fools represents a true popular uprising against conventional politics. It does not represent our disillusionment with politics as much as it represents a general merriment at the expense of the fools who govern our two-party system.
In fog-lit San Francisco, where I live, we have an old tradition of harboring the eccentric, all who didn't fit in elsewhere: Hippies, beatniks, queers, techno-nerds. Our most cherished eccentric was British-born Joshua Norton. Norton came here during the gold rush. He had made some money in speculation, but by 1854, he had lost all of it.
By most accounts, ruin brought him to madness. Norton's madness was to declare himself emperor of the United States and protector of Mexico. He issued his own currency, which was honored in restaurants and shops.
Then, as now, Californians had a certain tolerance for self- invention. Emperor Norton I wore a stovepipe hat with a plume. He commanded local tailors to make him uniforms in the manner of Louis Napoleon. The emperor was seen around town always in the company of his two dogs, Bummer and Lazarus.
People tipped their hats to him in the streets as they passed. He was our emperor. Norton's proclamations were published in local newspapers. In his most famous decree, Emperor Norton I abolished both the Republican and Democratic Parties. In 1880, when he died, a crowd estimated at between ten and thirty thousand attended his funeral. Clearly, madness is of serious intent in California.
I'm Richard Rodriguez.