Way back in 1964 Marshall McLuhan began his influential book, “Understanding Media,” with this anecdote from the New York Times: “A health director…reported this week that a small mouse, which presumably had been watching television, attacked a little girl and her full-grown cat. Both mouse and cat survived, and the incident is recorded here as a reminder that things seem to be changing.”
That odd case of turnabout might be used as a metaphor for the political transformation that’s occurred in California—from a state that four times gave electoral majorities to Ronald Reagan, twice as governor and twice as President, to a state that just voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama in spite of an unemployment rate that’s been above ten percent for over three years.
In addition, Democrats recently gained supermajorities in Sacramento and now sport a 38-15 bulge in the state’s Congressional delegation—Mary Bono Mack and Brian Bilbray being two recent GOP casualties.
San Diego is another case in point. That city recently chose pro-union, liberal Democrat Bob Filner as its mayor. This is the same municipality that from 1971 to 1983 was headed by Pete Wilson and from 1983 to 1986 by Roger Hedgecock.
A major factor driving this Left Coast transformation has been demographic. As journalist Diana West has noted: “In 1960 non-Hispanic whites made up 82 percent of the population of Los Angeles County. Forty years later…the white population had dwindled to 31 percent while Hispanics…accounted for 44.6 percent.”
In the last decade those figures have continued to fall and rise—to 27.6 percent and 48.1 percent respectively. This demographic change brought with it significant economic shifts. Thus, during the 1990s, a period of rapid economic growth in the country at large, the poverty rate rose 28 percent in Los Angeles County and over 60 percent in Riverside County.
Other sociological trends have combined with these demographic factors to produce the political shift that’s turned the Golden State dark blue. These trends include a dramatic rise of out-of-wedlock births among Latinos. Indeed, according to Center for Disease Controls statistics for 2003, Hispanics had by far the highest unmarried birthrate in the country (92 children per 1000 unmarried women).
Link those numbers with a dropout rate of 20 percent, and you have a circumstance where, as New York Times columnist Ross Douthat writes, many immigrants “aren’t assimilating successfully—or worse, are assimilating downward.”
Put otherwise, the family cohesiveness that was once touted as a strength of Hispanic culture is rapidly dissolving amid America’s media-driven culture. As it does, the government aid that both alleviates and promotes social dysfunction seems all the more necessary.