Monday, January 7, 2013

Jerry Brown's Year

Time magazine had it all wrong, if you listen to political commentators in the Golden State.  Instead of naming President Obama as their person of the year, they should have been celebrating the triumph of California’s Governor, Jerry Brown.

Just read the evaluations of this keeper of California’s conventional political wisdom.  “Jerry Brown hurdles over sophomore traps”, the LA Times’ George Skelton proclaimed, before arguing that we should give the Governor “high marks for effectiveness in report card”.  Even those from whom praise comes more grudgingly (he is a “shoo-in” for re-election say some) were quick to note the success of the centrepiece of Brown’s agenda (such as it is) after its passage in November: Proposition 30, the measure which is meant to prevent, at least in the short term, funding cuts to K-12 education and higher ed.

But think back to what Brown has actually achieved.  Our incredible prevaricating Governor ran an election campaign and two years in office sufficiently lacking in imagination, moral courage, judgement, and foresight that he has been reduced to going cap-in-hand to voters to do the job we elected him to do, imagining that such a supposedly skilled operator (“an insider’s knowledge with an outsider’s mind”, was his campaign’s mantra) would be able to govern without us holding his hand.

His “successes”?  He can keep ‘em!

Governor Brown has successfully outsourced the work of governing to the signature-gatherers, the fund-raisers, the spin-doctors, and the very voters whose indecision and inconsistency broke our system in the first place.

Governor Brown successfully hoodwinked a large number of voters, selling Prop 30 as a serious “fix” to our state’s dysfunctional structure when, in fact, it does no such thing, and leaves our educational system in the same sorry state as before and our political system as clogged as it was before the measure’s passage.

Governor Brown has successfully made an historic contribution to the mangling of our political process by creating the impression that his slipshod, irresponsible, and frankly rather dishonest approach to governance, involving half-truths and electoral blackmail, is acceptable in the state’s chief executive.  Admittedly, this doesn’t match his first-term “success” of prevaricating until voters bought the snake oil from its preeminent salesman—Howard Jarvis—and inflicted Prop 13 on successive generations.

Governor Brown has successfully wriggled out of putting together any concrete plan to end the unsustainable impasse which is wrecking not only our educational system, but the entire social fabric of our state, creating discord, disinvestment, and dissatisfaction.  

Governor Brown has successfully conveyed the message to Democratic legislators that he will be thoroughly displeased and unsupportive should they attempt to use the supermajority the November election bestowed upon them to actually implement a progressive program.

Governor Brown has successfully imperilled California’s higher education sector by pretending that Prop 30 represents sufficient action, ensuring the irritability of voters when, down the road, either Brown himself or a different Governor will have to ask voters to “fix” the problem again.

Governor Brown has successfully enshrined austerity—a program which amounts to a disdain for the public good and the public sector, an abandonment of working people who have borne the brunt of others’ greedy and short-sighted decisions—as the official ideology within our state, as prominent amongst its traditional opponents on what purports to be the progressive left as amongst its usual proponents on the fundamentalist right.

So no, 2012 has not been a particularly good year for the Governor who refuses to govern according to any recognisable principles.  And consequently, it has not been a good year for California. 

It might be true that, as George Skelton wrote, “given his restored clout, Brown can do about anything he wants”.  But that presupposes that the Governor has a coherent and productive agenda that he is interested in pursuing.  And this has always been the problem with Jerry Brown: he never really wants to do anything of long-term significance for the state.  He’s a consummate fiddler, and fiddling is not what the state requires at this time.

Just the other day I saw a poster for a new movie featuring the ex-Governator, who isn’t letting his own failure to mend the state’s broken political structure stand in the way of making a buck or two.  Brown could star in a film of his own in which, every time the action is rising and the fumbling hero is presented with an opportunity to do something constructive, he pulls back.  It would be like a Lord of the Rings marathon on loop: an already-lengthy production that never ends, but instead cycles around over and over and over again.  I know...the plot sounds awful, but it couldn’t be a bigger flop than the movie we’re living...the sequel to the Jerry Brown’s chaotic first term as Governor. 

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