As the the 20th century began, California was an insular
territory consumed by parochial issues. Its role in defining the
national character was middling, as was its population relative to
Today, it is America's behemoth. It sends vibrations across the
land with almost every move it makes and operates on such a large
scale that its governor, for instance, who isn't even running for
reelection next year, already has raised more campaign funds than
the lead contenders for the Democratic Party's presidential
Yet as political and social scientists peer into the coming
century, there is some question whether California is really leading
the nation, or rather increasingly veering off into its own
A range of analysts have concluded that while this state's throw-
weight continues to rise its role as a national leader has shifted.
It is now much more of a leading indicator in economic and social
spheres than in public policy.
No one doubts that this state "leads" the US and will continue to
in a statistical sense. It has the largest population, the largest
economy, and the greatest political clout, measured through
membership in Congress and the number of votes it casts in the
Electoral College to elect a president.
And in terms of culture and economics, the Hollywood dream
machine and the Silicon Valley technology revolution have global
When it comes to setting the agenda for public policy, however,
some analysts say California is propelled more and more by dynamics
that are atypical. What happens here, they argue, either doesn't
apply elsewhere or is viewed skeptically enough that if
adopted elsewhere, its form changes substantially.
Part of this is simply the natural evolution of the relationship
between this state and others. Whereas earlier this century
California was seen by many as the model of the future, today it has
been roughed up by experience and is viewed less admiringly by
"California has matured and it's clearly no longer the answer to
everyone's dreams," says Joel Kotkin of the Institute for Public
Policy at Pepperdine University in southern California.
Others see a deeper separation developing between this state and
the rest of the nation, a result of demographic trends and the
state's own failings in the public-policy arena.
"California has become less typical, less the leader, and more
the exotic state it was at the beginning of the century," says
Michael Barone, co-author of "The Almanac of American Politics."
California's influence and peculiarities were both evident
earlier this month when Florida Gov. Jeb Bush outlined new policies
to deal with the touchy issue of affirmative action.
California voters in 1996 outlawed racial preferences in state
education and employment, partly because elected leaders failed to
deal with the issue. Governor Bush seems determined to prevent the
divisiveness over the issue that developed in California by
preempting a more sweeping Florida ballot initiative akin to what
passed in this state.
Also noteworthy in the early stages of this presidential campaign
is the effort Republican front-runner George W. Bush has made to
distance himself from the way California dealt with another hot-
button issue: illegal immigration.
In what appeared a harbinger of shifting social policy,
Californians restricted public benefits to illegal immigrants in
1994. The US Congress curtailed benefits to undocumented immigrants,
too. But California's controversial law, largely dismantled by the
courts, now looks like a momentary response to toughening economic
times rather than a national trendsetter.
Last year, this state banned bilingual education, another social-
policy change that drew national attention as a potential social
tsunami generated on the West Coast. …