Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Jerry Brown's Sage Advice for President Obama

Over at Capitol Notes, John Myers has a great piece on Jerry Brown's CNN interview on Sunday, in which he offered advice for Barack Obama heading into next year's election. According to Brown, Obama "has to lay out a clear alternative and run a risk that it may not work out for him. Maybe the truth cannot be spoken in a way that makes it a successful campaign." He added, "I think the only way out of that is going to be a very vigorous election, where people lay out the stark alternatives, not muffle it like politicians like to do, kind of, you know, smooth out the rough edges."

Bad advice.
Myers is, of course, entirely correct in pointing out that this approach is pretty much the polar opposite of the one Brown employed in winning a third term as Governor last year. While he campaigned on general themes of prioritizing school spending, openness about the scale of the state's problems, and not raising taxes without voter approval, he refused to offer specific ideas for spending cuts or to say whether he'd push for higher taxes. And, of course, when it came to actually balancing a budget, most of these principles went by the wayside, as Brown and his colleagues in the Legislature cut higher education by hundreds of millions of dollars and unsuccessfully tried to impose a bridge tax without voter approval.

Moreover, at no point in his current term has Brown "laid out the stark alternatives" to the public. More than anything else, California needs a hefty dose of tough love: it needs to accept that the dream of government-created ease and prosperity, an article of faith in Western social democracies like the Golden State, is coming to an ugly end. Few career politicians like Brown even accept the premise that government spending needs to be drastically curtailed, and economic regulations rolled back, for the good of society. (Witness the crowing of Congressional Republicans, and the huffing and puffing and wailing and gnashing of teeth among Washington Democrats, over a non-existent cut in spending with the new debt deal.) And those who do almost never show the courage to campaign on that principle. (There's Ron Paul, and ...)

Ultimately, virtually all politicians are either hopelessly naive believers in the power of big government to create heaven on earth, or they're sociopaths whose only principle is getting and holding onto power. And neither of those traits lead to honest communication with the public on the proper scale and scope of government. So, while the president surely thanks Jerry for the advice, it might hold more weight if it was coming from someone who'd successfully applied it in his own political career.


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