Saturday, November 1, 2014

Brown's Open Contempt for California Voters, Media

The Sacramento Bee reported an exchange on Wednesday between Brown and reporters in Modesto.  A journalist asked, “Governor, you’ve been kind of reluctant or maybe cagey about your platform for a fourth term”.
The Governor interrupted with a violent “Noooo!”, and added, “Quite the opposite, I have communicated more completely to the people of California than any other governor in history”.
“How so?” replied the journalist.
“This is my 12th year”, smirked the Governor, “no one has ever had 12 years”. 
And what a 12 years it has been.  Twelve years of obfuscation, “creative inaction”, inattention to California’s social ills, its economic inequality, and its democratic deficit.  Twelve years of indecipherable babble, and 12 years of the media lapping it all up and begging for more.
“So what don’t you know?” the Governor went on.  “What don’t you know that you think I should tell you now in front of all these people?  I’d really like to get a new opening here to propound one of my many deep thoughts”.
The assembled media chuckled and laughed, demonstrating Brown’s ability to hijack a serious question and keep the people who are supposed to ask such questions quiescent in the palm of his hand.
Undeterred, the first journalist followed up and asked about the fourth term agenda.
Transparently exhasperated, Brown whined, “I mean look, you won’t print half of what I say.  I dare you to!  So this whole canard about ‘What are you going to do Brown?’, think about it!”
It’s a good job that journalists don’t print half of what Brown says, because he is notoriously content-free in speaking, his speeches larded with references that lead down rabbit-holes and off-topic tangents.  The media interpret the substanceless nature of the Governor’s press conferences as evidence of his brilliance and “quirkiness” instead of seeing in them his strategy of managing the fourth estate and evading questioning. 
When he launched into a soliloquy during the course of the press conference it contained not an iota of illuminating information about a fourth term agenda.  He waxed at great length about the need to manage the state’s resource and budgetary problems, and referred to “that train to move from north to south, I mean, getting that thing built”.
On the fourth term agenda: “A fourth term will be very different than a first term or a second term, and it will be even different than a third term.  Now what that will all be, you just, you know, fasten your seat belt, it’ll be a very exciting ride”.
A nice way of saying, “Shut up and quit asking questions.  You’ll find out in good time”.
This sounds very familiar.  In 2012, in one of his faux-reflective moments, the Governor used a theatrical allusion: “We’re just beginning Act 2…the third act is when it gets good.  The second is when the tension, the protagonist is under tension, the protagonist is under pressure, can he get out of the box he’s in.  That’s always in Act 2.  All right, you wait, we’re going to get to Act 3 very soon”. 
It’s certainly possible to think of Jerry Brown’s political career as a journey or theatrical production.  He’s been taking Californians for a ride for forty years.  He pioneered the “gesture politics” that are today a matter of routine for people from all parties, few of whom are as practiced or adept in the cynical art as Brown.  But if California has been the setting for a grand performance, it has been either tragedy or epic farce. 
The Governor’s refusal to plan, to take the long view, or to govern according to moral principles has been disastrous.  His “philosophy” of “creative inaction” created the opening for the passage of Prop 13.  That initiative drastically re-arranged government in the state, implemented undemocratic supermajority rules, forced the state to rely on an undiversified revenue stream, and has made it all but impossible to fund the institutions necessary for a state growing in population and demographic complexity, short-changing subsequent generations rather than the socially-irresponsible generation who voted for its passage.
Jerry Brown’s small government mantra of the 1970s, cloaked in faux-philosophical rhetoric, meant that he anticipated the Tea Party by over 30 years.  And that he swept back into the Governorship in the same year that the Tea Party made its appearance on the national stage is no coincidence.  Commentators described how California resisted the “red wave” of 2010, but such interpretations fundamentally misread what Brown is about.
His social liberalism aside, Jerry Brown’s Governorship has been about violent, destructive austerity.  He punished the poor, the weak, the elderly, and the young with two years of draconian cuts.  Now he is attempting to force a “Rainy Day Fund” on the state, when Californians have yet to repair the damage done to their society by the last storm. 
Like the economic fundamentalists in the Tea Party, Brown sees budgets as an end rather than a means.  He arranges social policy, to the detriment of most Californians, around his budget goals rather than using the budget as a tool to advance moral social policies.  He is violently anti-tax, and promised in 2010 and is intimating again this year that the only revenue increases Californians will see have to be passed by voters.  He is presiding over the privatization and monetization of the state’s University system.
In essence, his is a refusal to govern.  And that refusal to govern is crippling the California inhabited by the working and middle class, while permitting the wealthy to go on with their lives, unencumbered by any responsibility to give some of the wealth they have extracted from the state back to the public sector that enabled their rise. 
If we have a pretty good idea what a fourth term of Jerry Brown might look like it’s no thanks to anything the Governor has said.  Rather, it’s because his political life has followed a pattern of cynicism, inaction, periodic attacks on the public sphere, and a refusal to engage with our state’s structural ills, some of which are of his own making.  I don’t envy Californians the coming four years.


  1. I was filling out my ballot this morning, and though not as long as many years, there is still a lot there. I know you no longer count yourself among the privileged Californian subjects of Gov Brown, but you do follow the politics closely so I was wondering if you had any endorsements for the rest of ballot?
    Yes on the water bond? No on reserve funds? Yes on prison reform? Sneak a giant red sharpie into the ballot booth and scrawl in all capitals across the rest of the pages: "GOOD GOD DOES NO ONE ELSE SEE THE JERRY BROWN IS THE GREATEST MONSTER IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD AND WILL SINGLE HANDEDLY BRING ABOUT THE APOCALYPSE?"

    1. I assume that "four horsemen" has been mis-translated, and that it was a reference to the four iterations of Jerry Brown and his assaults on Californians' public sphere and sanity!
      I would have been consulting you on the water bond, because I haven't followed it closely enough. My cynical reading of it was that it has been offending enough of the right people that maybe there's something in it...
      I would be a definite 'no' on the reserve funds, and probably a 'yes' on the prison reform, although I don't like the special funds that straitjacket revenue and don't give the legislature enough flexibility.
      Are those the only statewide initiatives? I haven't been following as closely as I'd like, but that's not so bad.

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  3. There were six statewide ones this year. Pretty light actually.
    1-Water, I am pretty supportive of this one. It is a grab bag of various bond authorizations, but there is some good in there, groundwater, habitat restoration, conservation, and some ehh ones: more dams. But interest rates are low now, it’s a good time to invest in infrastructure. Even if the infrastructure itself is not perfect.
    2-The reserve fund. I was leaning yes. California's budget is very cyclical, my understanding is it takes some capital gains taxes and puts it away for lean times. I know you will say we should abolish prop 13 instead.... ok fine we can discuss that when it gets on the ballot, I believe after the freezing over of Hell (or orange county whichever)
    45-Requires insurance commissioner approval for health insurance rate increases...probably a good idea, though there might be some messiness with the new affordable care act.
    46-Drug and alcohol testing of doctors...which I think was put in there as a sweetener to raise the medical malpractice damages cap. Which should be raised, but this initiative seems like kind of a mess.
    47 Is the criminal sentence realignment or whatever. Seems like a good one.
    48- Approval of some Indian gaming compacts. Which you might ask yourself, why are the voters of California being asked to approve Indian gaming, when it clearly exists? Well they are not, this is one specific casino deal in the eastern sierras which is the subject of this initiative. Why then are the voters being asked to approve this one...kind of a local issue, no? Well essentially because another tribe which already has a casino paid to get this on the ballot. I'm voting YES. Mostly because I don't like ballot initiatives being used for these sorts of small bore, pet issues. Whatever your feelings on Indian Casinos, ballots are not the place to decide which tribes get one and which don’t.