John Edwards tried to win a four-year trip to the White House with his stories about “two Americas.” Victor Davis Hanson would reject much of Edwards’ class-warfare rhetoric, but he uses his latest column to put forward arguments about “two Californias.”
“California” is a misnomer. There is no such state. Instead there are two radically different cultures and landscapes with little in common, the two equally dysfunctional in quite different ways. Apart they are unworldly; together, a disaster.
A postmodern narrow coastal corridor runs from San Diego to Berkeley; there the weather is ideal, the gentrified affluent make good money, and values are green and left-wing. This Shangri-La is juxtaposed to a vast impoverished interior, from the southern desert to the northern Central Valley, where life is becoming premodern.
On the coast, blue-chip universities like Cal Tech, Berkeley, Stanford, and UCLA in pastoral landscapes train the world’s doctors, lawyers, engineers, and businesspeople. In the hot interior of blue-collar Sacramento, Turlock, Fresno, and Bakersfield, well over half the incoming freshmen in the California State University system must take remedial math and science classes.
In postmodern Palo Alto, a small cottage costs more than $1 million. Two hours away, in premodern and now-bankrupt Stockton, a bungalow the same size goes for less than $100,000.
In the interior, unemployment in many areas is over 15 percent. The theft of copper wire is reaching epidemic proportions. Thousands of the shrinking middle class have fled the interior for the coast or for nearby no-income-tax states. To fathom the nearly unbelievable statistics — as California’s population grew by 10 million from the mid-1980s to 2005, its number of Medicaid recipients increased by 7 million; one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients now reside in California — visit the state’s hinterlands.
But in the Never-Never Land of Apple, Facebook, Google, Hollywood, and the wine country, millions live in an idyllic paradise. Coastal Californians can afford to worry about trivia — and so their legislators seek to outlaw foie gras, shut down irrigation projects in order to save the three-inch-long Delta smelt, and allow children to have legally recognized multiple parents.
But in the less feel-good interior, crippling regulations curb timber, gas and oil, and farm production. For the most part, the rules are mandated by coastal utopians who have little idea where the fuel for their imported cars comes from, or how the redwood is cut for their decks, or who grows the ingredients for their Mediterranean lunches of arugula, olive oil, and pasta.