California Whinin’

Good governance requires good citizenship.

One of my tasks as president of Govern For California is to help grow our network of political philanthropists. The bigger our network, the more courageously our legislators can act. Most prospects respond favorably. But some choose instead just to grumble. They fall into the following categories:

  1. Beneath Them. Some are disgusted with politics. Our answer is to remind them of the criticism Johannes Fest leveled at Thomas Mann in 1918 for writing Reflections of an Unpolitical Man, which encouraged elites to stay away from the sordid business of politics. By doing so, Fest maintained, Mann did more than Hitler to impair the Weimar Republic.
  2. Too Much Money In Politics. Our answer: the problem is not enough money from informed and well-intentioned donors.
  3. Given Up On California. Our answer: GFC’s mission is about more than them. Eg, it’s about six million kids in public schools where dollars don’t make it to classrooms and bad teachers can’t be fired.
  4. Special Interests Have Too Much Power. Our answer: Special interest power arises in a vacuum (see 1. above) and Citizens United changed nothing in California.
  5. No Respect. Some are offended that elected officials to whom they have donated don’t pay them more attention, apparently unaware that political philanthropy should be about the polity, not the donor.
  6. National Politics More Important. Our answer: Domestic services are overwhelmingly provided by states. California alone spends 50 percent more than the federal government spends on K-12 education.
  7. Charities More Important. Our answer: States dwarf charities (California alone spends more on K-12 in a single year than the Gates Foundation holds in total assets) and, unlike charities, can enact laws.
  8. It’s Too Much Work. Our answer is to provide a single-check form and single-page briefs, to cover costs, and to handle reporting.

Often the loudest are like those of whom Charles Dudley Warner reportedly said “Everyone complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it.” We like to remind them of the concluding line of the Declaration of Independence:

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.“

We do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate. So said Thomas Jefferson. Good governance requires good citizenship!


Originally appeared on Medium, 5/30/18.