Now that I’ve started commenting on ads from the California gubernatorial campaign, I can’t stop. Yesterday, I was having some fun contemplating Jerry Brown’s suggestion that Meg Whitman is just another Arnold Schwarzenegger, promising yet again to shake things up in Sacramento. If you really want to shake things up, Brown argues, elect a candidate who isn’t making tiresome promises about shaking things up. Here’s the positive side of the same message:
Translation: things didn’t suck in California back when Jerry Brown was governor so, if you want them to stop sucking, bring back a career politician who knows how to make liberal government work.
When you think about it, that’s an awfully strange pitch for a liberal candidate to make at any time, especially in these times. Liberalism has always been a progressive creed. I've commented on liberal nostalgia before, but I never thought I'd see it figure so prominently in a campaign pitch. Even a triangulating New Democrat like Bill Clinton (having just declared that the “age of big government is over”) sold himself as the guy who’d “build a bridge to the 21st century.” Brown’s offering himself up as a symbol of public sobriety in an inebriated age, as just the guy to take Californians back to a time before the rot had set into California state government.
Can that really work as a campaign pitch at a time when people across the country are rebelling against Obama/Pelosi/Reid liberalism and Californians are seriously considering retiring Barbara Boxer in favor of Carly Fiorina? Brown’s betting that California voters don’t hold him responsible for the hand his ideological descendants (like his former chief of staff, the recalled governor Gray Davis) had in California’s dismal fiscal condition, its exploding unfunded pension liabilities, its higher-than-average unemployment, the capital flight to lower-tax states, etc.
The message seems to be working. Is that because things other than ideology are driving the election, or because California is an ideologically distinctive state?