Is Gov. Brown Saying Urban Riots OK?

APRIL 13, 2011


Is Gov. Jerry Brown dangerously inferring that if he does not get his proposed state budget balanced high, urban riots are not only inevitable but permissible?

On April 10, he spoke at the Reagan State Building in downtown Los Angeles using Civil War metaphors for describing the level of political partisanship he is finding over the inability to reach consensus on a state budget.

Gov. Brown told CBS News reporter Dave Bryan:

[T]he country hasn’t been this divided since the Civil War…. We are at a point of civil discord, and I would not minimize the risk to our country and to our state. It is not trivial. I’ve been around a long time.  I’m a student of history.  I’m a student of contemporary politics. We are facing what I would call a ‘regime crisis.’ The legitimacy of our very democratic institutions are in question.

Is Gov. Brown trying to persuade the electorate to vote for his high-balanced state budget, or is he dangerously trying to extort the outcome he wants?

No Mandate for Taxes

Brown and a fawning press continue to portray the Nov. 2, 2010 election, a clean-sweep victory by the Party of Government for all statewide public offices up for election, as a mandate for tax increases.  The fact is that in the same statewide election Brown’s party lost every ballot initiative  that had anything to do with raising taxes. That included Proposition 25, which passed and allowed the legislature to pass a state budget with only a bare majority vote, but only — read the fine print — if taxes are not raised!

Measure Description Result
21 State Park Funding from vehicle license surcharge Failed (57.3% against)
22 Prohibit State Taking Local Funds Passed (60.7% in favor)
24 Repeal Allowance of Lower Business Tax Failed (58.1% against)
25 Simple Majority for Legislature to Pass State Budget, but WITHOUT increasing taxes Passed (55.1% in favor)
26 Two-Thirds Vote Required for Some State & Local Fees Passed (52.5% in favor)
Source: California Secretary of State website

Brown continues to pretend that he and his party were granted the “consent of the governed” to raise taxes — when they most definitely were not.   Put in the intellectual terms that Jerry Brown uses, raising taxes was deemed an “illegitimate” option.

It most certainly is a legitimacy crisis for his party’s regime, just as it was for former Gov. Schwarzenegger when he lost his package of reform initiatives in 2005.  But how dare Brown raise the legitimacy issue when his political party has opposed the will of the people again and again with Proposition 187 (immigration reform) and the two same-sex marriage measures, Proposition 22 and Proposition 8? His party also has helped create government agencies with unelected officials far removed from the consent of the governed such, as the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the Water Resources Control Board.

Tax and Spend Regime Was Declared Over by Voters in Nov. 2010

But how can it be called a “crisis” when the voters spoke loud and clear beforehand that raising taxes was not legit? The electorate already sent a message that the “tax and spend regime” of the past is over.  But Gov. Brown and the media want to spin that it never happened and that rejection of his tax package would spell a “regime crisis.”  Denial is a fictional river in California, not Egypt.

Political scientist Robert A. Dahl came up with an apt metaphor for explaining how legitimacy works in a state such as California with its perpetual droughts.  Dahl described legitimacy as a “reservoir.”  Inasmuch as the water is at a given level, political stability is maintained; if it falls below the required level, political legitimacy is endangered.”

In other words, political legitimacy is not gained by merely getting elected, even in a clean sweep of all offices. In California this is mainly due to the mechanics of gerrymandering that guarantees non-competitive electoral districts.  Elections in such highly gerrymandered districts do not confer the consent of the governed to raise taxes.

Proposition 11, passed by voters in 2008, is supposed to end the gerrymandering by establishing the California Citizens Redistricting Commission to draw non-partisan districts without gerrymandering. But columnist Dan Walters, among others, is skeptical that it will work as advertised.

Political legitimacy can’t be merely gained by highly gerrymandered votes, laws or regulations, the charisma of an articulate leader or even an approving press.  Legitimacy can ultimately only be gained by political “virtue,” a misunderstood concept not having anything to do with personal morality but with doing what is best for the people in the long run even at the expense of one’s popularity.

The U.S. Civil War Was Not Inevitable

With all his talk of Civil War, Brown seems to be implying that the predictable results from a failed budget will be civil war.  As historian Douglas G. Egerton describes in his 2010 book, “Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election that Brought on the Civil War,” the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 was not inevitable.  The reason that full-scale hostilities broke out was the result of a conspiracy of a relatively few men.

Abraham Lincoln was covertly supported for president by a band of Southern extremist, pro-slavery politicians called the “Fire Eaters” who wanted to trigger the secession of Southern states.  According to Egerton, the Civil War came about not when the Southern states seceded but when the Northern states tried to stop them.

It was small provocations, verbal insults, race baiting, taunts, conspiracies, yellow journalism and other gestures that led up to the Civil War.  Such may be the case of a Civil War metaphor today in California, which may be misinterpreted to mean that without an approved state budget there will be “war.”

Which raises the question: Is Jerry Brown issuing a warning or is he granting tacit approval for a civil war?  To repeat, civil war is not inevitable.  It is something that comes about typically when leaders, and small groups of elites, together with the press, are able to indirectly communicate that violence is a permissible option and may not even be punished.

No less a role is played by the press. As Egerton writes in his book, “Democratic [Party] newspapers angrily placed the failure of conciliation squarely on Lincoln’s party and the President-elect.”

John Brown Failed Because His Violent Means Were Illegitimate

Coincidentally, it was a person name Brown, abolitionist John Brown, who helped incite the Civil War by leading a raid on the Harper’s Ferry arms depot in 1859 in the hope of arming slaves for a slave rebellion.  John Brown believed his cause was legitimate, but failed because the slaves refused to follow him and arm themselves for an uprising.

Not that there couldn’t be urban riots fomented by elites in California today, but I find that Gov. Brown’s use of Civil War rhetoric to be dangerous unless he qualifies that any such actions would be severely punished and that his role is as a reconciler.

State Needs to Carry Out Will of the People

What would be best for California right now would be for its leaders to tone down and out the rhetoric of war, to quit scapegoating Republicans and to declare that in November 2010 the people voted for an end to the “tax and spend” regime.  That’s what elections are for: to replace violent dissension and war.  Thus, the “civil war” over the state budget was already held in November 2010.  That war is over and the Democrats lost, despite gaining every statewide political office on the ballot, and a majority of the seats the gerrymandered Legislature.

Martin L. Gross wrote that “government loses its claim to legitimacy when it fails to fulfill its obligations.” Which means today:

* It is time for Gov. Brown and the legislature to carry out the expressed will of the people about “no more taxes.”

* It is time for the press to quit spinning that the voters want taxes raised.

* It is time for moral leaders to not sanction civil strife.

* It is time to exert the rule of democratic law and not descend into the anarchy of Greece fomented by Leftist groups.

* It is time for the state government to regain legitimacy if we are going to have an economic recovery.

Has Civil War Now Gained Legitimacy?

With Gov. Brown’s unfortunate statement about the plausibility of civil war has given such a war a kind of legitimacy, I asked a prosecutor friend of mine  to comment on Jerry Brown’s use of Civil War rhetoric. My friend replied:

Jerry Brown is nothing more than California’s Obama.  He ran as if he knew the answers, and was ready to make the tough decisions.  In truth, he had no answers except the wrong ones (more taxes), and has no intention of making any tough decisions unless someone puts a figurative gun to his head or a recall election on the ballot.  The Republicans have called his bluff, and now he’s in a pickle.

This new “civil war” rhetoric is like the last gasp of a drowning man.  Brown thinks he can scare people into embracing a totally bankrupt remedy that may provide a few more breaths of air, but has no chance of solving the state’s problems.

I don’t think anyone’s buying his budget proposal for one minute.  He wants to do everything but get realistic about how to solve this mess.  That would take real leadership and real guts.  Neither is his strong suit.

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