October 2003 will either be remembered for Arnold's election as governor or the possible Cubs-Red Sox World Series. I suspect the former is more likely (sorry Bostonians, I doubt you'll get past the hated Yankees). With the California recall election hours away, I thought I'd offer an observation on where Gray Davis went wrong, politically speaking.
Back during my George Washington University days, there was a controversial election for Student Association president. I won't recount the details, but suffice to say the eventual winner's legitimacy was not accepted by many on campus (myself included). Things quickly progressed from bad to worse, and by the fall semester members of the Student Senate circulated a petition to commence impeachment proceedings, something that had only been done once before in the Student Association's history.
The impeachment trial was quite a spectacle. It didn't begin until arounf 10 p.m., and the Senate's verdict was announced just after 7:30 a.m. the next morning. The president was charged with eight impeachment articles, but was only found guilty of one--a vague catch-all charge alleging "gross negligence in performance of his duties and responsibilities". I forgot what that was supposed to mean despite the fact I was part of the team that drafted the impeachment articles.
Anyhow, the impeached president could have survived had it not been for a couple critical mistakes he made after the impeachment effort was launched. First, he sent an e-mail to the student body announcing his decision to dissolve the Student Association and form a new interim student government that would be free of "selfish politics". That was classic, but ineffective. The second mistake was using Student Association funds to hold a thinly veiled anti-impeachment rally two day before the trial. That made everyone mad. Finally, the president's testimony at the trial was rather shallow and unconvincing. This was the most forgivable error, however, because he didn't take the stand until 2 a.m. in the morning.
Here's the moral of the story: It's not what you do before you get into trouble, but what you do after that usually decides your fate. Had our intrepid Student Association president laid low and made a few token gestures to his opponents, the impeachment would have fizzled rather quickly. Even with all his errors, he came within a couple votes of beating the rap. Instead he reacted with moral indignation and portrayed himself as the wronged party. That only infuriated and emboldened his enemies further.
Similarly, Gray Davis could have squelched this recall before it got to this point. A little humility and some willingness to consider policies other than raising taxes and paying off unions would have gone a long way. Instead, Davis dug in his heels and acted like everyone else was crazy for questioning his lousy job performance. He tried to make himself a victim. People hate when prissy white-boy politicians do that. Except for Bill Clinton. Then again, Clinton did get impeached, something only two other presidents faced.