From 2001-2009, many people on the left and more than a few on the right and in libertarian circles warmed to the argument that one reason George W. Bush was such a disappointing president was because he lived in a bubble, surrounded by yes men. When is the rest of California going to figure out that almost all of Sacramento is in a bubble? Exit polls after the May 19, 2009, special election showed Dems, Republicans and independents alike hated the higher taxes pushed by the Sacramento media-political establishment. Yet inside the Sacramento bubble, the columnist for the most influential newspaper writes that it is “hard to find anyone” who doesn’t think tax hikes should now be shoved down voters’ throats. And the governor whose own tax hike power play would callously put schools at risk unless income and sales taxes are increased by a November ballot measure goes on national TV to suggest that only Republican “cult” members are opposed. Yo, George Skelton! Yo, Jerry Brown! Who says the public is on your side?
Dan Walters frequently makes the point that this depiction of Republicans as being the solo villains of Sacramento doesn’t reflect reality. Despite all my whining about them, the Sacramento Bee and L.A. Times editorial pages will occasionally make the point that union power is what makes Sacramento dysfunctional, not GOP lawmakers’ opposition to higher taxes.
But too many of the beat writers who cover the Legislature often implicitly accept the Brown/Skelton narrative that there is something wrong/unusual/despicable about those who refuse to back higher taxes to sustain a local and state government status quo that isn’t working.
I have yet to talk to a management consultant or efficiency expert who doesn’t ridicule California’s public employee compensation practices as divorced from the real world, or who wonders why the state whose information-technology innovations fueled the productivity revolution can’t bring those innovations to the public sector.
And it’s not just libertarian cranks who say it’s insane to base teacher pay on years on the job and meaningless graduate school course work. It’s Barack Obama.
But very little critical thinking is the norm in the beat writers’ stories about the narratives offered by those in power in Sacramento. Consider the reaction from the beat writers back in the summer of 2009 to the rhetoric coming from lawmakers and union supporters who were furious that they couldn’t get Republican lawmakers to go along with tax hikes even though California voters of all stripes had rejected them in the May 19 special election that year.
This is from my blog on July 19, 2009:
Tax-hike foes: First they were terrorists. Then racists. Now Nazis.
Even by Sacramento standards, the political establishment’s reaction to the backlash against its latest push for tax hikes is increasingly unhinged.
First there was Assembly Speaker Karen Bass likening her loudest critics to terrorists. Then there was Bass and her staff in a bizarre miniflap in which they appeared to hint that an aide to our newly tax-averse governor might be a racist. Why? Because he used the word “boycott” in describing the decision of Bass, who is African-American, to skip a Big 5 meeting on the budget.
“Staying off buses in Montgomery to bring down Jim Crow is a boycott. Missing a photo op to prop up Arnold Schwarzenegger is not,” her spokeswoman said.
Now, as Reason blogger Tim Cavanaugh notes, Bass’ biggest backer, the California Teachers Association, is weighing in. The CTA’s new ad denouncing the governor invokes the specter of . . . Nazism.
“It’s a touch of class to use the phrases ‘never forget’ and ‘never again’ in an attack on Austria’s most popular export since Hitler, but I think any fair-minded person would agree that cutting public school fiddling classes is exactly the same as the Holocaust,” Cavanaugh wrote.
What extreme rhetoric will the desperate Sacramento establishment resort to next in its never-ending fight for higher taxes?
Remember, this came two months after California voters resoundingly rejected higher taxes in the belief that a state with among the nation’s highest income, sales and gasoline taxes should be able to make ends meet. Yet no one in the Sacramento media — not one journo — pointed out that Dems were reviling Republicans for opposing higher taxes just after California voters made clear that they also opposed higher taxes. Instead, the crazy comments of Karen Bass and Dem lawmakers like Noreen Evans were taken seriously by the mainstream media, or at least offered without any larger context.
The public is opposed to higher taxes? Says who?
Like George Skelton and Jerry Brown, evidently most Sacramento journos think it is “hard to find anyone” who doesn’t think tax hikes should be shoved down Californians’ throats.