04/14/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

As Goes California...

In California today there is zero respect for members of the Assembly or State Senate. Everybody hates them. The colossal failure of our elected "leaders" to deal humanely with the state's finances cancels out any effort by well-meaning legislators who might be trying to do the right thing. The Republicans, who control the state's finances through the "two-thirds rule," tell us every day that in a $1.8 trillion economy we can't do anything but cut, cut, cut because we simply "don't have the money." They tell us that a $19 billion budget deficit -- about 1 percent of the state's GDP -- requires us to dismantle the higher education system, lay off teachers and social servants, close parks, and demolish public institutions that took a generation to build. Deservedly, the State Legislature has a 13 percent approval rating, and the Governor's is about 25 percent.

The nation is catching up to California. The contempt directed at Sacramento politicians is already bleeding over on every other politician in the state. What happens in California has national significance. California's deficit fetish (which is really just an excuse to gut social programs the Right has always opposed) paves the way for Washington's own deficit fetish that is sure to dominate the national discourse in the next few election cycles.

The nation should take a hard look at Meg Whitman's gubernatorial campaign. Her Karl Rove, Mike Murphy, recently threatened to tear apart her Republican rival, Insurance Commissioner Steven Poizner, with a $20 million negative ad buy if he didn't exit the race. Whitman has already spent $39 million of her own money without even securing her party's nomination. Granted, $39 million is pocket lint for this billionaire, but how bored do you have to be to throw away that kind of money just to stroke your own ego and have the chance to hobnob with presidents and Senators? Seventy-five percent of Californians say the state is heading in the "wrong direction" and Whitman wants to step on the gas.

There's something creepy about a billionaire calling for gutting what's left of California's beleaguered welfare system and throwing tens of thousands of poor women and children into the streets at a time when unemployment is 13 percent and people all over the state have lost their homes.

Whitman's pricey, stylized TV buys are currently inundating the airwaves. It's all soft-focus emotional bullshit right now but she'll have no choice but to go very, very negative in the general election this fall. It promises to be a spectacle worth watching. It will reach a new low in Swift Boating.

The U.S. Congress, with the Republican minority owning the Senate, is growing in unpopularity. Most people don't pay attention to process so they just blame the institution. The Republicans' strategy of blocking everything and letting the country deteriorate is paying political dividends as the contempt for Congress grows and voters move to punish the party "in power." The strategy is working in California and it will work like a charm nationally too.