Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Jerry Brown's "War of All Against All"

Walters approvingly describes how Brown made his first priority the paying down of deficits and bringing the budget, in at least the short term, into the black.  These actions—made possible by cutting from programs and services which benefit many middle- and working-class Californians—have, Walters says, generated “multibillion-dollar surpluses…that could be just as challenging as deficits”.
Brown would now like to funnel this money into a rainy day fund, and “shuns calls from fellow Democrats for new or expanded services, throwing cold water on, among other things, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s push for universal pre-kindergarten”.  Brown, according to Walters, “said that if the Legislature wants pre-K, it should divert money from state allocations for K-12 schools and community colleges”.
Brown’s refusal stems from his argument that “we [need to] bank this money or we pay down our debts.  We’ve done a lot already, and we haven’t paid for what we’ve done”. 
Walters argues that the priority should be “building reserves as a bulwark against the inevitable down-cycles of the future, while avoiding new spending that’s unsustainable”.  But the midst of what remains a down-cycle for too many Californians is not a time to be denying them support to build up a reserve.  And spending is only unsustainable if it is not matched by a willingness to pool our resources to devote to the common good.
Brown is right about one thing.  He hasn’t paid for all of the things he has done.  He spent the first two years of his governorship stripping resources, funding, opportunities, and support away from Californians of all backgrounds, but particularly those on the economic edge.  He did so to make a political point and to shore up his electoral fortunes.  But he did so at an extraordinary social cost which he has not yet addressed.
As a matter of moral rectitude and justice, Brown owes those Californians who he hurt something.  The state owes its citizens economic justice, protection, and security.  But with the support of establishment columnists, the Republican Party, and California’s business elite, the governor is selling himself as a fiscal hawk, committed to disciplining the state, rather than a communitarian leader committed to the well-being of the state’s citizenry.
I would argue that rather than being the “adult in the room”, as Walters calls him, Brown is creating a toxic and dangerous political environment by cynically arguing that California has exhausted its ability to tap into its ample resources and that we have reached a point where not all of our state’s children can have the opportunities they need in order to start life on a sure footing.  The idea that we have to choose which of them to support—those in community college, in middle school, or in their pre-K years—is offensive. 
The governor is encouraging what Walters dismisses as Democrats interest groups, but which are actually all Californians with a stake in our community, to engage in a scramble for shrinking resources, competing against each other while the Governor looks on, refusing to intervene to dredge up new resources even when the state is home to under-taxed elites.
Brown once warned of a Hobbesian “war of all against all” if voters did not pass his temporary, inadequate, and poorly-targeted tax increases (increases, it should be noted, which came only after years of divestment). 

But it is precisely such a war that his outlook is now triggering, with his invitation to Californians’ withered institutions to fight it out with each other for shrinking resources.  California’s children, our future generations, do not benefit from growing up in Brown’s political and social jungle.  And the bonds between generations and social groups within our society today will become increasingly frayed as our Governor and his right-wing allies force us into a chaotic state of nature for the good of his reelection bid and legacy. 

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