The political right had a good night in California’s gubernatorial race. The top two candidates who will advance to the November ballot represent a right-wing political consensus that has been steadily emerging in the state to the detriment of working-class Californians
On the one hand, there is Neel Kashkari, who won fame for carrying water for Wall Street and overseeing the bank bailout, during which he lied to oversight committees like that headed by Elizabeth Warren about the extent of the bailout. Kashkari’s gubernatorial bid is big on pictures of the candidate gamboling in the surf with his dogs, and correspondingly light on policy.
But like his equally right-wing opponent Jerry Brown, Kashkari signs up to the view that Californians have to limp along without tapping into the great wealth that exists in the state and is currently distributed in such an unequal fashion. (Brown currently has 55.2% of the vote, Kashkari 17.9%, and Tim Donnelly, the other Republican candidate, 14.7%. Results of other races are also available here.)
Although he is officially a Republican and Jerry Brown is a Democrat on paper, Kashkari will have a hard time against our gimlet-eyed governor who proclaimed that “fiscal prudence” was the big winner in the primary election. It was Brown, after all, who launched such vicious cuts to services for the poor, the elderly, the weak, and the young that even California’s electorate blanched at the social wreckage he was making of the state, and opted to pass the cosmetic Proposition 30, which promised a “solution” but instead opened the door to the terribly irresponsible practice of “ballot-box budgeting”.
It is Brown who equated more funding for students in public higher education with a bank bailout, and who airily dismisses pre-Kindergarten education as a luxury. It is Brown who threatened to veto efforts by Democrats to restore funding to beleaguered social services, and Brown who is urging the unregulated fracking of our landscape at the same time that he pillages our social terrain.
Against this kind of right-wing fundamentalism—in which a balanced budget (traditionally a tool rather than an end in and of itself) is seen as being more valuable than the health and welfare of the people who comprise our society—Kashkari will struggle to make headway.
The real tragedy is that in the context of our new top-two primary system—which has seen record political spending in a primary election—there will only be these two right-wing candidates on the ballot in November.
People laugh at the Green Party and the Peace and Freedom Party, claiming that they have no place in a ‘serious’ electoral contest. But those parties offered detailed agendas for the social and economic transformation of our state. Jerry Brown offered homilies about “fiscal responsibility”, which means his right to beat up on people who can’t vote (largely our state’s children) in order to balance the budget. And Neel Kashkari offered policy agendas that could fit on business cards, and which promised sunshine and unicorns without ever getting to the “how”. So who are the “serious” candidates?
This means that we will not have a conversation about the quarter of California’s children who live in poverty while powerful corporations demand the right to trample on the powerless. Many of these children lack adequate housing and nutrition, to say nothing of the opportunities that should be the mainstay of a caring society.
We will not have a conversation about the privatization of our higher education system, such that today students are charged astronomical sums for what their parents had for free or close to nothing. We will not discuss the fact that because of the privatization of higher education, student loan debt is just behind housing debt nationwide, meaning that a generation of Californians will enter the workforce already maimed and crippled by financial burdens imposed by a selfish community and cynical politicians.
We will not discuss the underclass that is developing in the Central Valley where people die or suffer terribly from exposure to poisons in the air, food, and water, and where quality of life is as bad as anywhere in the country.
We will not discuss our yawning democratic deficit, and the broken political structure which, when combined with the fundamentalist economics which drive Brown and Kashkari, create an ungovernable polity in which we act out what Brown described as a “war of all against all”, a violent scramble for scarce resources.
The election in November will devolve into a series of cheap talking points and not-so-cheap ads run by two candidates who essentially agree upon creating a leaner, meaner, more heartless and less responsible California.
My own work will take me out of the state and leave me unable to vote in what would ordinarily be a critical election. But the “choice” between a deeply unserious financier and a deeply cynical old man is an awful one, which will ultimately mean little to those Californians who are suffering as a result of our scorched-earth politics or to those who are disturbed by this turn of events.