Thanks to California’s undemocratic Top Two primary system, in which 12% of voters make the big decisions in June, no serious candidates made it onto the November ballot. That is, no serious candidates as defined by their policy platforms or ideas for improving life for the citizens of California.
Jerry Brown eschews policy discussions, and gets away with it by bedazzling the media and playing at being some kind of philosopher king, when in reality he resembles some latter-day Nero, fiddling atop the social and economic pyre that is a California defined by declining public services, appalling economic inequality, and a broken system of government.
Back in June, the main policy of Neel Kashkari, the Republican candidate who took a distant second in the primary, was to avoid saying anything as unhinged as the Tim Donnelly, official representative of the GOP’s lunatic fringe. Kashkari was successful, and put out videos of himself playing with his dogs on the beach in lieu of serious commentary on the state.
Candidates from the Green Party, the Peace and Freedom Party, and others who went to the trouble of putting together thoughtful, often novel, and sometimes quite compelling platforms, were uniformly dismissed, receiving no coverage from the media, and none of the financial support necessary for a campaign from the economic powers that be in the state.
In August, Jerry Brown’s strategy is the same, and I have little doubt that his refusal to engage with any of the big questions that bedevil our state will prove successful, and that he will be reelected in three months’ time.
More disappointing is Kashkari, who spends a lot of time talking about poverty, the poor state of our schools, and the need to do something about it. He went so far as to play at being homeless for a few days to garner the media attention that the state GOP’s shallow pockets are incapable of buying him.
And it worked, winning Kashkari an interview with Time magazine, in which he sounded off on his usual talking points. Some of his criticisms of Jerry Brown were spot on. Kashkari bemoaned, “Here’s a Democratic governor with a Democratic super-majority in the state senate and the state assembly [sic]. And he’s making incremental changes. He’s tinkering around the dges. He should be Nixon going to China…The thing that angers me the most is if anybody in California has the power to make big changes, it’s Jerry Brown. He’s not lifting a finger… In the face of record poverty, schools that are near the worst, and unemployment that’s near the worst, he does what’s politically expedient for him. That’s a hell of a record”.
Now if Kashkari were serious about addressing these problems in a way that would help Californians, he would do more than launch ill-informed, illogical, and opportunistic attacks on organized labour as the source of our ills. In the generous column inches he was given by Time, the would-be Governor had exactly nothing of substance to say about how he would buck his own party’s fundamentalism to address the economic inequality and institutional impoverishment—engineered by his party thanks to its cynical use of undemocratic supermajority rules—behind California’s ills.
It’s a pity that Brown won’t be challenged by someone—irrespective of that individual’s party—who has something intelligent and serious to say about public institutions, economic inequality, structural political reform, or our democratic and moral deficits. To all appearances, Kashkari is every bit as cynical as Jerry Brown.