Thursday, August 26, 2010

Gov. Meg Whitman or Gov. Jerry Brown? Look to Los Baños & Other Bellwether Cities

Who will be sworn in as the State of California’s 39th governor in January 2011: Jerry Brown or Meg Whitman? The candidates’ performance in the gubernatorial “bellwether” cities, especially Los Baños, Cathedral City and Morro Bay, will determine the outcome.

CalPolitical has analyzed statistics for all six gubernatorial elections in the past twenty years (1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006), comparing city-level data with statewide returns. Each percentage point that a city deviated from the statewide percentage for the Democratic and Republican candidate was summed to determine a “cumulative deviation” score (expressed as “points”). A city that perfectly matched the statewide percentages for the Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates in all six elections would have a score of zero (0.0) points. This analysis identified the fifteen cities that most closely mirror the statewide outcome:
  1. Los Baños (Merced County), 14.6 points
  2. Cathedral City (Riverside County), 16.8 points
  3. Morro Bay (San Luis Obispo County), 18.9 points
  4. Winters (Yolo County), 19.6 points
  5. Newman (Stanislaus County), 20.2 points
  6. Dublin (Alameda County), 21.7 points
  7. Morgan Hill (Santa Clara County), 22.0 points
  8. Claremont (Los Angeles County), 23.1 points
  9. Los Gatos (Santa Clara County), 26.3 points
  10. Merced (Merced County), 27.7 points
  11. Duarte (Los Angeles County), 28.7 points
  12. Kerman (Fresno County), 29.6 points
  13. South Lake Tahoe (El Dorado County), 29.7 points
  14. San Diego (San Diego County), 29.9 points
  15. Riverbank (Stanislaus County), 30.1 points

Los Ba
ños - No. 1 Gubernatorial Bellwether City

As Los Baños votes, so goes the California governorship. Many Californians best know that western Merced County community (26,000 population in 2000) as a “pit stop” on Highway 152 between Interstate 5 and State Route 99 -- the four-lane Highway 152 expressway literally runs through the heart of downtown. Some residents commute to Silicon Valley jobs, but agribusiness is the local economic engine. In the late 1800s, Los Baños was the headquarters of the immense Miller & Lux agricultural empire; today this is remembered via a statue and cattle sculptures in Henry Miller Plaza.

In 2006, Los Baños voted Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) 56.9% - Phil Angelides (D) 39.0%, very close to the statewide figures (55.9% R-38.9% D). In 1998, in the Democratic landslide, Los Banos voted Gray Davis (D) 60.0%-Dan Lungren (R) 37.9%, compared to 58.0%-38.4% statewide.

The overall population of Los Baños cannot be described as a demographic microcosm of California. In 2000, it was 50.4% Hispanic/Latino versus 32.4% statewide. It has smaller African-American (4.3%) and Asian (2.3%) populations than California as a whole (6.7% and 10.9% respectively statewide).

In terms of voter registration (as of May 24, 2010), Los Baños is more Democratic, less "Independent" and just as Republican as the statewide electorate (Los Baños: 49.2% D, 30.5% R, 16.5% Decline-to-State/Independent vs. California: 44.5% D, 30.8% R, 20.2% DTS/Ind). Exhibiting quintessential San Joaquin Valley Democratic behavior, many Los Baños Democrats regularly vote for Republican candidates -- they are actually "independent" voters who have not bothered to abandon their Democratic registration (known as "Valleycrats").

Four other San Joaquin Valley cities are in top 15: Newman (6th), Merced (10th), Kerman (12th) and Riverbank (15th).

Cathedral City - No. 2 Gubernatorial Bellwether City

Cathedral City, located in Riverside County’s Coachella Valley, is the No. 2 gubernatorial bellwether city. It had 43,000 population in 2000 and is now majority Hispanic/Latino (50.0 percent in 2000). Many of its working class residents provide services to the wealthy enclaves in Rancho Mirage (now home of U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, formerly of Marin County) and Palm Desert.

Cathedral City voted Davis 58.1%–Lungren 38.1% in 1998 (vs. 58.0%-38.4% statewide) and Schwarzenegger 56.6% –Angelides 39.4% in 2006 (vs. 55.9%-38.9% statewide). Its neighbors Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs respectively ranked as the 23rd-best and 47th-best bellwethers. Other nearby communities in the Coachella Valley are among the staunchest partisan stalwarts: Coachella (356 "points," 13th from bottom of bellwether list) reliably votes Democratic; Indian Wells (338 points, 18th from bottom) is a reliably Republican city.

In 2008, California supported Proposition 8, 52.2%-47.8%. The result in Cathedral City was relatively close, 52.7%-47.3%.

Of the top 25 gubernatorial bellwether cities, Cathedral City has the highest Republican registration (39.3%) and the smallest gap percentage-wise between Democratic and Republican registration (2.4 percentage points).

Morro Bay - No. 3 Gubernatorial Bellwether City

Morro Bay, the No. 3 gubernatorial bellwether, is a small city on the San Luis Obispo County coast. Morro Rock, a 581-foot volcanic plug, looms over the community. A major trans-Pacific cable, a conduit for much of the telephone and internet traffic between North America and Asia, makes landfall nearby. Morro Bay is the most politically moderate coastal city in California. In 1994, it voted Pete Wilson (R) 55.7%-Kathleen Brown (D) 40.4% (vs. 55.2%-40.6% statewide).

Registration-wise, Morro Bay is slightly less Democratic and more Republican than California as a whole (Morro Bay: 41.1% D, 32.8% R, 19.8% DTS/Ind vs. California: 44.5% D, 30.8% R, 20.2% DTS/Ind). It has twice the proportion of registered Greens (1.4% Morro Bay vs. 0.7% statewide).

Other Cities: Dublin, Morgan Hill, Los Gatos, Claremont, San Diego

Dublin, the No. 6 bellwether (30,000 population in 2000), is in the independent-minded Tri-Valley section of otherwise reliably Democratic Alameda County. In 1998, it voted Davis 58.5%–Lungren 37.9% (vs. 58.0%-38.4% statewide). Nearly one-quarter of Dublin's voters (24.7%) are registered as "Decline to State." The neighboring cities of Livermore and Pleasanton rank as the 67th- and 75th-best gubernatorial bellwethers.

The other Bay Area cities at the top of the gubernatorial bellwether list are Morgan Hill (No. 7) and Los Gatos (No. 9). Both are in the 15th Senate District, which is the only Bay Area state legislative district represented by a Republican (newly-elected Sen. Sam Blakeslee).

Ranking eighth on the gubernatorial bellwether list, Claremont is perhaps the most moderate “college town” in California. Home to the seven-member Claremont Colleges consortium, Claremont is not a Democratic bastion like Berkeley, Davis, Palo Alto and Santa Cruz. The neighboring city of Montclair ranks 73rd on the bellwether list. Duarte, the second-best gubernatorial bellwether in Los Angeles County (11th statewide), also is located in the San Gabriel Valley.

Kerman, the 12th-best gubernatorial bellwether, has the highest Democratic registration and lowest "decline-to-state" registration among the top 25 cities (49.5% D vs. 32.4% R vs. 11.4% Decline-to-State).

South Lake Tahoe, thirteenth on the gubernatorial bellwether list, has the highest "decline-to-state" registration (26.7%) and lowest Republican registration (24.2%) among the top 15 cities.

San Diego, California’s second-most populous city (1.22 million in 2000), is the only city over 100,000 population on the top-15 gubernatorial bellwether list. Ranked 14th, it has large concentration of “swing voters.” Although Pete Wilson was mayor from 1970 to 1982, San Diego favored him by just moderate amounts above his statewide margins in his 1990 and 1994 gubernatorial bids. In 1990, San Diego voted Pete Wilson 52.4%-Dianne Feinstein 41.8% (vs. 49.3%-45.8% statewide). In 1994, San Diego re-elected Wilson over Kathleen Brown, 57.1%-38.5% (vs. 55.2%-49.6% statewide).

Ventura: Distorted by McClintock's "Favorite Son" Vote in 2003 Recall Election

Although Ventura was the city that most closely reflected the statewide returns in 2006 (Schwarzenegger 55.8%-Angelides 39.1% in Ventura vs. statewide 55.9%-38.9%), it ranked as the 17th-best bellwether since 1990. The greatest deviation occurred in the 2003 special gubernatorial recall election, when Tom McClintock won 22.2% of the Ventura city vote versus 13.4% statewide. McClintock was then Ventura’s state senator, causing a “favorite son” distortion of its results.

"LaMOrinda" Area of Contra Costa County: Cluster of Gubernatorial Bellwethers

The "Lamorinda" area of central Contra Costa County includes Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda. Walnut Creek is to the immediate east. Three of these cities are relatively high on the gubernatorial bellwether list: Lafayette (27th), Walnut Creek (32nd) and Orinda (51st). (Moraga is out of the top 100 -- it has moderated, but has been more Republican than its neighbors.) These communities were heavily Republican until the 1980s, but have become more "middle-of-the-road" in the 1990s and '00s. All four cities favored Pete Wilson over Dianne Feinstein in 1990, all by larger margins than statewide. In 1998, all four supported Gray Davis over Dan Lungren, but support for Davis lagged his statewide figure. In 2003, all four cities backed Schwarzenegger over Cruz Bustamante.

Lamorinda looms large on the political map, far exceeding its size. Its wealthy and highly-educated citizens are politically-active. They are regular voters and generous in their political campaign contributions. The Lamorinda Democratic Club has one of the largest memberships of any political club in California; gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides addressed the club on his five-day, 19-city campaign launch tour in March 2005. Although Lamorinda has half the population of Antioch, its turnout in the 2006 election exceeded Antioch by 31 percent. Orinda city councilman Steve Glazer is Jerry Brown's campaign manager.

Long Beach, Fremont, Concord: No Longer Gubernatorial Bellwethers

Several cities were once "bellwethers" in gubernatorial elections, but now have fallen back into the Democratic pack. These include large "suburban" cities that have become more ethnically diverse in the past thirty years (and therefore usually more Democratic).

Long Beach once was a Republican-leaning gubernatorial bellwether, but now has a Democratic trend. It ranks 39th on the bellwether list. In 1990, Long Beach voted Wilson 48.6%-Feinstein 46.6% (vs. 49.3%-45.8% statewide). In 1998, it stunned hometown Republican candidate Dan Lungren by favoring Gray Davis by wider than Davis’s statewide margin: Davis 62.4%-Lungren 34.2% (vs. 58.0%-38.4% statewide). Lungren represented a Long Beach-based congressional seat from 1979 to 1988. Lungren opted to return to Congress in 2004 from a seat in the Sacramento area.

Fremont, in southern Alameda County, also has lost its gubernatorial bellwether status (ranking well out of the top 100). In the narrow 1982 election, Fremont helped to decide the outcome, voting George Deukmejian 48.9%-Tom Bradley 47.7% (vs. 49.3%-48.1% statewide). In 2003 and 2006, Schwarzenegger’s percentages in Fremont (2003-36.8%, 2006-49.4%) were much smaller than his statewide figures (48.6%, 56.9%). As of May 2010, Fremont had the eight-highest "decline-to-state" registration in California (29.5%) -- Cupertino, a fellow "Silicon Valley" community, had the highest (38.0%) and neighboring Milpitas was third (33.0%).

Concord, in central Contra Costa County, was once a gubernatorial bellwether, too. In 1982, Concord voted Deukmejian 49.3%-Bradley 47.3% (vs. 49.3%-48.1% statewide). For 1990 to 2006, it is the 88th-best bellwether.

Caveat: Cities Incorporated After 1990 Excluded

The top-15 list excludes cities that were incorporated after 1990. For example, Laguna Woods (incorporated 1999, Orange County), Oakley (incorporated 1999, Contra Costa County) and Windsor (incorporated 1992, Sonoma County) would have ranked in or near the top fifteen if complete data were available.

Compton: Least Predictive City in California Gubernatorial Elections

The five cities that are least predictive of California gubernatorial elections are: Compton in Los Angeles County (456 points), East Palo Alto in San Mateo County (426 points), Berkeley in Alameda County (425 points), Inglewood in Los Angeles County (399 points) and Oakland in Alameda County (398 points). All five are Democratic stalwarts. The Republican stalwart city that is least predictive is Villa Park in Orange County (357 points). Rolling Hills on L.A. County's Palos Verdes Peninsula (17th from bottom, 339 points) and Indian Wells in Riverside County (18th from bottom, 338 points) are the 2nd- and 3rd-lowest Republican cities on the gubernatorial bellwether list.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

President Obama's "Green Jobs" Visit to Fremont, Calif.

President Barack Obama visited the San Francisco Bay Area on May 25th and 26th for fundraisers for the re-election campaign committee for U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer in San Francisco and to tour the Solyndra, Inc. solar panel manufacturing facility in Fremont.

Obama is not the first president to visit a “green jobs” facility in southern Alameda County. On June 18, 1992, President George H.W. Bush held a question-and-answer session with employees of the Evergreen Environmental Services Oil Refinery in the neighboring city of Newark.

As Obama travels about the Bay Area, his advisers certainly will remind him that the region usually is a Democratic stronghold. He garnered 2.22 million votes in the nine-county Bay Area in November 2008. If the Bay Area were a state, it would have ranked ninth in total Obama votes, just ahead of New Jersey and North Carolina. It would have ranked first in percentage of the vote for Obama, 73.8 percent, ahead of Obama’s top state of Hawaii (71.8 percent), and far ahead of his national percentage (53.1 percent).

Obama so dominated coastal northern California that he lost just six cities in the coastal counties extending from Santa Barbara to the Oregon border: Solvang, Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, Paso Robles, Rio Dell and Fortuna. Obama won every city in the nine-county Bay Area plus every city in Santa Cruz, San Benito, Monterey, Merced, Lake and Mendocino counties. In the Bay Area, Danville, Atherton and Hillsborough had not favored a Democrat for president in at least forty years, but decisively favored Obama in 2008.

Fremont, the site of the Solyndra plant, however, has not been a reliably Democratic city. For most of the late 20th century, it was a “bellwether” city, favoring the winner of most presidential and statewide elections. Richard Nixon defeated McGovern in Fremont in 1972 and Ronald Reagan won Fremont in 1980 and 1984. Republicans George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson won Fremont in their respective gubernatorial and senatorial bids in 1982. George H.W. Bush narrowly defeated Michael Dukakis in Fremont in 1988 (50.9% to 49.1%), as did Democratic U.S. Senator Alan Cranston against Republican Ed Zschau in the close 1986 Senate election (51.4% Cranston vs. 48.6% Zschau).

By the 1990s and 2000s, Fremont was solidly Democratic in presidential elections. Al Gore ran 12.6 percentage points ahead of his national percentage in Fremont in 2000; John Kerry ran 18.1 percentage points ahead of his national percentage there. Obama won 71.1 percent of the Fremont vote, 18.0 percentage points above his national percentage. However, Governor Schwarzenegger won Fremont by an 1,881 vote margin in 2006 (Schwarzegger lost to Democrat Cruz Bustamante by 1,828 votes in the 2003 recall gubernatorial election).

Fremont was the most equi-balanced city in percentage terms in the Proposition 8 (“marriage equality” constitutional amendment) election in 2008. “No on 8” won by just a 33-vote margin out of 73,683 ballots cast – a 50.0%-50.0% split.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Stunning Mass. U.S. Senate Election -- Independents Flee Democratic Fold -- Missed Early Warning Signs in 2009 Calif. CD-10 Special Election

The U.S. Senate special election in Massachusetts on January 19th was a stunning rebuke of the national Democratic agenda by independent voters in a state that has voted Democratic in 11 of the last 13 presidential elections. Scott Brown, a Republican state senator, defeated state Attorney General Martha Coakley, 52% to 47%. The Senate seat, held by Democratic brothers John F. Kennedy and Edward “Ted” Kennedy for most of the past 57 years, was last held by a Republican in 1953. John F. Kennedy’s 1952 victory over incumbent Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. was then a shocking outcome, as an Irish Catholic defeated a scion of one of the greatest political dynasties in New England history.

Massachusetts last elected a Republican senator, Edward Brooke (the first of just two African-American U.S. senators elected in the 20th century), in 1972. Unlike Brown, who is a conservative Republican, Senator Brooke was a moderate. Fifteen years have passed since Massachusetts elected any Republican to the U.S. Congress; since Reps. Peter Blute and Peter Torkildsen were defeated in 1996, no Republican has won any of the Bay State's ten congressional districts. (However, a series of Republican governors, including William Weld and Mitt Romney, served from 1991 to 2007.)

There were strong warning signs of independents’ disaffection with the national Democratic message in California’s 10th Congressional District special election in November 2009, yet most political observers ignored or overlooked them. First, the city of Dixon (Solano County), a presidential bellwether, favored the Republican candidate by an astonishing 15 percentage points. Second, a massive pro-Republican “get out the vote” effort materialized on election day – resulting a “win” by the Republican candidate at polling places (overturned by the Democratic candidate’s votes in the much larger vote-by-mail).

In the 2009 special CD-10 election, Democratic Lt. Gov. John Garamendi soundly defeated conservative Republican David Harmer, 52.8% to 42.8%, yet like an iceberg, much lurked beneath the surface. In May 2009, voter registration in CD-10 was 47% Democrats, 29% Republicans and 20% Decline to State (Independent). Clearly, David Harmer attracted many votes outside of his party.

Most independents apparently favored Harmer. In the October 2009 Survey USA/KPIX poll, independent voters comprised 16 percent of the “likely and actual voters.” They favored Harmer over Garamendi, 42% to 35% (18% of independent voters said that they voted for one of the three third-party candidates). Harmer attracted 10 percent of Obama voters; Garamendi won 5 percent of McCain voters.

California CD-10 Special Election - Overlooked Factor No. 1: The Dixon Phenomenon

The biggest and most overlooked warning sign for national Democrats in the 2009 California CD-10 special election came from the city of Dixon in Solano County, at the northern end of the district. Dixon is known to most northern Californians as a city (or dismissively as a “cow town”) in the Interstate 80 corridor between Vacaville and Davis. Dixon is technically in the nine-county Bay Area, but it behaves politically more like a middle-of-the-road Central Valley community (akin to Modesto, Fresno, Manteca and Tracy). Political observers know Dixon as one of California’s best “bellwether” cities – as Dixon goes, so goes the nation.

Dixonians have a remarkable ability to select the winner of a presidential election, closely mirroring the national margin of victory. According to CalPolitical’s analysis of voting returns from all California cities for all presidential elections from 1964 to 2008, Dixon is the sixth-best presidential bellwether in the Golden State (behind Blythe, Rio Vista, Vacaville, Barstow and Wasco).

Dixon supported the electoral vote winner in 11 of the past 12 presidential elections, with the exception of 1976 when it backed President Gerald Ford over challenger Jimmy Carter. In 2008, it favored Democrat Barack Obama over Republican John McCain, 53.0% to 45.0%, very close to the national margin of 53.1% to 45.8%. Four years earlier, Dixon was more strongly Republican than the nation, favoring Republican George W. Bush over Democrat John Kerry, 54.5% to 44.6% (compared to the national margin of 51.0% to 48.5%).

In the CD-10 special election in November 2009, Dixon favored Republican Harmer over Democrat Garamendi by 54% to 39%, an astonishing 15 percentage point landslide for the Republican. Some form of political earthquake apparently happened in Dixon (and, by proxy, the nation) between November 2008 and November 2009, yet no one apparently took notice until the January 2010 Massachusetts Senate election.

When Dixon speaks like this, political pundits should be listening. They should be descending upon the community, engaging with the man- and woman-on-the-street and asking a series “why?” questions. Dixon and neighboring Vacaville (the Golden State’s third-best presidential bellwether) should be regarded by political elites as more than a mere “pit stop” on the freeway between the Bay Area and Sacramento. The same goes for nearby Rio Vista (second-best presidential bellwether). (Perhaps to muffle their unpredictable political voice, political mapmakers “gerrymandered” the neighboring communities of Vacaville, Dixon and Rio Vista into three congressional districts.)

The last time that a Republican presidential nominee defeated a Democratic presidential nominee by such a wide margin in Dixon was 22 percentage points in the Ronald Reagan re-election landslide of 1984 (61.3% for Republican Reagan to 38.7% for Democrat Walter Mondale). If Dixon is on a path to favor the Republican presidential nominee in 2012 by the same margin that it favored the Republican congressional candidate in 2009, then President Obama would suffer one of the worst defeats in modern American history.

Dixon’s ability to maintain its presidential bellwether status is especially remarkable given the community’s rapid population growth and demographic changes over the past half century. Its population was a mere 2,970 in 1960 compared to more than 17,000 today.

California CD-10 Special Election - Overlooked Factor No. 2: Massive Republican Get Out the Vote Campaign

The Republican “get out the vote” effort on November 3, 2009 in California’s 10th Congressional District was remarkably effective. Some pundits dismissed the Republican’s strong showing as a “low-turnout special election fluke,” but it is clear that Republicans (and Republican-leaning independents) were much more energized than Democrats on election day itself.

Although Democrat John Garamendi won the overall vote (52.8%-42.8%), Republican David Harmer defeated Garamendi in the polling place vote by three percentage points (49.7% Harmer to 46.7% Garamendi). In Alameda County (mostly Livermore), Garamendi won the vote-by-mail by 400 ballots, but lost the county due to Harmer’s 1,500 margin in the polling place vote.

Fortunately for Garamendi, polling place ballots accounted for just 31 percent of the 137,786 votes cast for the five major candidates. Just under 69 percent of ballots were cast as absentees/vote-by-mail. Garamendi handily defeated Harmer among absentees/vote-by-mail, 55.6% Garamendi to 39.7% Harmer.

Harmer won the Livermore area by a wide margin, 52.5% to 44.5%. Harmer was the first Republican federal candidate to win Livermore since George W. Bush defeated Al Gore there in 2000 (by just 44 ballots, 49.1% Bush to 48.9% Gore); in 2000 Livermore was the third-best presidential bellwether city in California (behind Barstow and Blythe). Livermore had trended Democratic during the 2000s, backing John Kerry over Bush by 0.9 percentage points in 2004 (the first time that Livermore had voted for a losing Democratic presidential nominee in more than 40 years) and Obama over McCain by 16 percentage points in 2008 (57.3% Obama vs. 40.9% McCain). Livermore last voted for a Republican for the U.S. House in 1996, as incumbent Rep. Bill Baker (R) defeated Democratic challenger Ellen Tauscher there, 50.7% to 44.1% (Tauscher won the district overall, due entirely to her margin in the Democrat-vote rich Castro Valley and Ashland areas).

Most journalists missed the story of the election day “surge” by Republicans and allied independents in CD-10. Polling place returns did not come in until late on election night, after the filing deadlines for many political reporters.

The 2009 California 10th Congressional District election (especially the Dixon and Livermore returns) and the 2010 Massachusetts U.S. Senate special election suggest a trend that should worry national Democrats and hearten national Republicans – independents, an important part of the Obama coalition in 2008, appear to be disenchanted presently with the national Democratic agenda. Republicans and their transitory independent supporters simply have a greater “urge to win” and therefore a greater urge to turn out to vote than Democrats. If current trends continue, this bodes poorly for Democrats across the nation in November 2010.

National Democrats Need to Resolve the Health Care Debate, Then "Turn the Page"

If the national Democrats want to avoid this fate, they need to do a much better job engaging with citizens across the country, especially independent voters. Many legislators, both Republican and Democratic, adamently refuse to communicate directly with the constituents that they ostensibly represent. Some have held no town hall meetings of any form (in person or telephonically) in several years, if ever. Some members of Congress today are in office simply because they are "members of Congress;" they are entrenched incumbents in single-party districts who believe that they are never going to leave office involuntarily. In the long term, voters will not tolerate this type of arrogance and smug detachment.

First, Democrats need to explain precisely why the health care system needs to be reformed and how their proposed reforms will benefit a wide cross-section of Americans. Democrats need to inform their constituents that the status quo, health care by for-profit "big insurance, is unacceptable; many citizens mistakenly think that they now have coverage until they learn in their hour of need that they do not. The Democrats also need to demonstrate to voters that they will experience immediate benefits from any health care reform; a mis-perception persists that no reform of substance will take effect until 2013 or 2014. They also need to explain how health care reform is relevant at a time when one in ten Americans is unemployed and one in six is either unemployed or underemployed.

Second, Democrats need to "turn the page" as rapidly as possible from the thicket of the health care policy debate to the "jobs and economy" issue, which has much greater relevance to the typical voter. When people do not have jobs in order to finance their short-term sustenance, their food and shelter on a week-to-week basis, they really could care less about health care, unless or until they become seriously ill.

Third, most Americans are confused by the ups and downs of the financial services industry in the past eighteen months. The industry received a series of "bailouts," and now seems to have recovered, if stock market indexes and employee bonuses are any indication. Meanwhile, the average citizen is still coping with unemployment, government service cuts (from school closures to park shut-downs) and other "lagging indicators."

Many people had been clamoring throughout 2009 for public explanations and public "mea culpas" from the "titans of industry" behind the crisis, yet only now in 2010 is the public accountability process beginning through the Angelides Commission. This "reality TV" series should have been programmed months ago, in summer 2009, in a setting with appropriate historical gravitas, such as the Senate Caucus Room, the site of the 1970s Ervin Watergate inquiry and the 1987 Iran-Contra hearings, preempting soap operas on network daytime television. It could have had all the drama and import of the Pecora Commission hearings of the 1930s, which exposed for posterity the shenanigans of 1920s Wall Street.

Hearing dates in mid-2009 would have allowed a bipartisan team of Democratic and Republican legislators to devote early 2010 to crafting and passing legislation to address legal problems exposed in the hearings. Today many Americans are still as baffled as they were in late 2008 as to how and why this crisis at the very root of the "Great Recession" began; if "John/Jane Q. Public" does not understand the problem, then he or she certainly will not understand any solution proposed by Congress -- therefore, the status quo dominated by the Wall Street financial interests will go on.