Republican polemicists once used the phrase "San Francisco Democrat" to demonize Democratic rivals an allusion to the city's singular ideological proclivities.
This year, however, the whole state is becoming Republicans' dark symbol of where the country is headed should Barack Obama return to the White House.
Republican challenger Mitt Romney started what one might call the Californization of the campaign with a joke in Iowa, to wit:
"Entrepreneurs and business people around the world and here at home think that at some point America is going to become like Greece or like Spain or Italy. Or like California just kidding about that one, in some ways."
Gov. Jerry Brown who's been the butt of many jokes himself didn't laugh at Romney's quip. His spokesman, Gil Duran, snapped: "Romney knows just as little about the Golden State as he does about the rest of the world."
But Romney's jab was just the beginning. Sarah Palin, the GOP's 2008 vice presidential candidate, quickly joined in the fun.
"Obama's vision for America will make the rest of the country look like California, minus the beautiful scenery and warm weather," Palin said, listing the state's bullet train project, anti-global warming regulations, stubbornly high unemployment, taxes and "endless budget shortfalls."
Conservative commentator Peggy Noonan offered a more nuanced version of the California-as-hell theme:
"But he (Romney) and his supporters should drop the argument that if we don't change our ways we'll wind up like Europe. What Americans are worried about, take as a warning sign, and are heavily invested in is California. "
Reality makes California a natural political target. It is, after all, not only the nation's most populous and economically important state, but a very troubled one, notwithstanding Brown's dismissal of critics as "declinists" and "dystopian journalists."
We've been in recession for a half-decade, still have very high unemployment and there's no strong recovery in view. We have self-inflicted deficiencies when it comes to attracting the massive investment capital that recovery requires.
We have an insular political culture that ignores those deficiencies and embraces grandiose schemes, such as the bullet train and a multibillion-dollar greenhouse gas reduction program, that may make us even less competitive.
The state budget is plagued by chronic deficits, our politicians have run up more than $30 billion in budget debt, and while they beg Californians for tax increases (that could make us even less competitive), they alienate voters with self-serving hijinks.
Would Obama and other Democrats cite California as a model for the country? Not likely.
We're a symbol of dysfunction, like it or not, and that makes us fair game.