Jerry Brown and the "pale horse of death"


Era of Limits II

California has a new old governor. Here's some of what the always-interesting Jerry Brown said during yesterday's swearing-in ceremonies:

In seeking the Office of Governor, I said I would be guided by three principles.

First, speak the truth. No more smoke and mirrors on the budget. No empty promises.

Second, no new taxes unless the people vote for them.

Third, return—as much as possible—decisions and authority to cities, counties and schools, closer to the people.

With your help, that is exactly what I intend to do. The budget I present next week will be painful, but it will be an honest budget. The items of spending will be matched with available tax revenues and specific proposals will be offered to realign key functions that are currently spread between state and local government in ways that are complex, confusing and inefficient. My goal is to achieve greater accountability and reduce the historic shifting of responsibility back and forth from one level of government to another. The plan represents my best understanding of our real dilemmas and possibilities. It is a tough budget for tough times. […]

Choices have to be made and difficult decisions taken. At this stage of my life, I have not come here to embrace delay or denial.

I'm a Brown softy, but it was a pretty good speech, filled with generous nods to California history/exceptionalism, semi-poetic interludes, and a winking yet respectful acknowledgment of the Zen Fascist's considerable Daddy issues. Most importantly, Brown continues to lay the rhetorical groundwork for a kind of long overdue shock therapy when it comes to tackling the Golden State's fantastical approach to public policy. Unfortunately (as he also points out in the speech), we've been down that road before, too.

Including in 1979, when, in the wake of Proposition 13, it had finally become clear to California's political class that voters were no longer tolerating the Sacramento/Spring Street status quo. Back then Gov. Moonbeam was singing an anti-government tune you barely hear from Republicans anymore, let alone Democrats. Let's listen in:

It was a more literal time

Why the anti-government mood? I asked this same question four years ago and now I believe I understand.  Simply put, the citizens are revolting against a decade of political leaders who righteously spoke against inflation and excessive government spending but who in practice pursued the opposite course.

It is in this fundamental contradiction between what political leaders have said in their anti-inflation and anti-spending speeches and what they have actually done in their fiscal policies that we find the cause of today's political malaise. The ordinary citizen knows that government contributes to inflation and that runaway inflation is as destructive to our social wellbeing as an invading army. […]

There is much to learn about the unprecedented primary vote and victory of Proposition 13.  Not the least of which is that the established political union, and corporate powers are no match for an angry citizenry recoiling against an inflationary threat to their homes and pocketbooks.

While it is true that the tax revolt has increased the privileges of the few, it has without question inspired the hopes of many.  Plain working people, the poor, the elderly, those on fixed incomes, those who cannot keep up with each new round of inflation or protect themselves from each subsequent round of recession, these are the people who are crying out for relief.

But in their name and in the name of misfortune of every kind, false prophets have risen to advocate more and more government spending as the cure – more bureaucratic programs and higher staffing ratios of professional experts.  They have told us that billion dollar government increases are really deep cuts from the yet higher levels of spending they demand and that attempts to limit the inflationary growth of government derive not from wisdom but from selfishness.  That disciplining government reflects not a care for the future but rather self-absorption.  These false prophets, I tell you, can no longer distinguish the white horse of victory from the pale horse of death. […]

It is time to get off the treadmill, to challenge the assumption that more government spending automatically leads to better living.  The facts prove otherwise.  More and more inflationary spending leads to decline abroad and decadence at home.  Ultimately it will unwind the social compact that forms the basis of our society.

Jesse Walker on "the five faces of Jerry Brown" from 2009. Tim Cavanaugh two months ago on Sacramento Über Alles. And a Chris Bray classic from the distant year of 1998.