From the Stacks – 'Dancing Bear' (1968)
In outlining the forces in the state’s politics, “Dancing Bear” shows how little things have changed since the book was published in 1968. Everything sounds distressingly current, whether Hill is speaking about California’s fickle voters, the three amigos of the ballot box (the initiative, referendum and recall), the weak party organizations or novice candidates who promise to “fix the mess in Sacramento.” Campaign consultants – a fact of life in current politics – also come in for scrutiny.
What intrigued me the most about “Dancing Bear” was Hill’s comments on Reagan, whose political career had yet to unfold when the book was written. Here’s what Hill has to say:
“Visitors to the governor’s office in the early months of 1967 sometimes got the eerie feeling that they had walked onto a Hollywood set. The appurtenances looked appropriate: rich, dark paneling, gleaming colonial furniture, family pictures on the table behind the desk. And the governor himself, glossily groomed, tailored with the slight over-sharpness of Hollywood’s mid-1950s, was sitting obliquely at his desk as if for a camera angle. But whereas governors’ desks usually are piled with documents representing the day’s business, Reagan’s office might be conspicuously devoid of as much as a single sheet of paper. The stage-like atmosphere would be broken only when an assistant popped in with a document to get the governor’s signature or a quick yes-or-no concurrence.” (“Dancing Bear,” Page 225)
“Reaganism is almost completely negative in character. It promises to keep things from happening; not to free the world from Communism or to alter the course of history but to keep the forces of government, whether an increase in property tax or an open-housing law, away from the patio steps.” (“Dancing Bear,” page 231)
ONE VISITOR SUGGESTED THAT THE HEADY perfume of orange blossoms, emanating from thousands of orchards, might in some way be responsible for California's chronic political eccentricities.
Nearly every other observer down the years has been impelled to grope for some reason-climate, geography, sunspots, public pixilation-why the state has earned such sobriquets as "The Great Exception" and "The Uncommonwealth."
Had California gone drama-mad? Had the voters of the nation's most populous state turned suddenly into a race of pop-eyed, slack-mouthed stage-door Johnnies, confusing the delights of entertainment with the problems of public administration?
Ronald Reagan, the actor-turned-governor, and George Murphy, the tap-dancer-cum-Senator, were hardly less plausible than such figures from California's past as Governor "Sunny Jim" Rolph (1931-34), who planted floral slogans on the capitol lawn, sent a case of whiskey to a condemned man, and at the bottom of the Depression suggested that everybody just take a couple of weeks' vacation or Upton Sinclair, the amiable Socialist novelist with alarmingly novel ideas about state finance, who missed becoming governor only by a relative handful of votes. Indeed, as far back as 1867 California had elected as governor a man with no experience in public office. His name was Henry Haight. He is remembered as one of the better governors-although his name, ironically, received its greatest renown on a street in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district when it became the capital of hippiedom.