Let California Fail

I’ve received several emails today asking me to call Republican legislators and beg them to vote for the currently proposed California budget.eartrhquake1

But since the proposed budget is bad (too many cuts in the wrong places, plus regressive tax increases), why should I or other Democrats support it?

Why isn’t the state Democratic Party telling the voters that this disaster has been caused by the Republicans?

Why are the Democrats not seizing the ideological moment by calling this budget disaster a Republican disaster?

We Democrats have done a terrible job of fashioning the debate on the budget crisis.

Now we’re fighting for a budget that cuts jobs, cuts services to the poor and the vulnerable, undermines unions, trashes environmental safeguards, relies on increases in the most regressive kinds of taxes (sales, gasoline and income), and gives billions in tax cuts to the wealthy.

If we win on this budget, we lose, both ideologically and in regard to the future of California. As it is, the current proposed budget rewards Republicans, the wealthy, and the tax-cut lobby for their intransigence.

They have played us as fools, and we’ve allowed them to get away with it.

When I suggested that we shouldn’t fight for this terrible budget, a friend said, “It’s so easy for us to sit here and say ‘let California fail’ because it won’t really affect us that much. We have jobs that aren’t dependent of State government. We don’t collect disability, we’re not on welfare, we don’t depend on vouchers to get us another night in an SRO. But there are millions of Californians who do, and I’m not willing to insist on anything at the moment except to get this flawed budget passed. Then [we will] fix what is wrong with this system so that we do get budgets that are fair.”

I am sympathetic to her concerns, but I am not convinced.

My friend’s plea for support for this budget reminds me of the phrase “beggars can’t be choosers.”

But we’re not beggars. We are the majority of California’s citizens and voters.

We ought to insist now on a budget that is fair — and if that fails, we ought to go to the voters and tell them that the Republicans have caused their state government to fail.

Only then will we have the chance to get real change in California.

Michael D. Fox

Michael received a B.A. degree in philosophy and literature, magna cum laude, from Queens College, and a J.D. with honors from the University of Wisconsin Law School, where he was an editor of the Wisconsin Law Review and a member of the Order of the Coif. He also received an M.F.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Irvine. Following law school, Michael served as law clerk to the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, then as an appellate attorney with the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C., and as a national staff counsel for the United Steelworkers Union. He has successfully briefed and argued numerous cases before the federal and state appellate courts. He has also taught communications, speech, acting, and dramatic literature at the University of California, Irvine, Long Beach City College, and the Laguna College of Art and Design. Among his publications are books and articles on topics ranging from economics, real estate and labor relations to Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett, and contemporary drama. As a theatre director, Michael has staged more than 50 plays. He is the founder and Artistic Director of Moving Target Theatre, which produces socially conscious plays in cooperation with activist organizations and presents them directly in the community. He is also a member of the Executive Board of the Democratic Party of California, president of The Duck Club Democrats, and has received an AFL-CIO Award for Meritorious Service for Commitment to Human Rights. Michael is married and has one son, one dog, two cats and five guitars. 

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  11 comments for “Let California Fail

  1. Reggie
    February 17, 2009 at 10:54 am

    We as Dems need to frame the debate – the Republicans frame the issues, then we are left to fight on their ground. We need to get louder. We need to learn not to be shouted down so easily. We also need to learn how to mobilize people and money to help our friends and hurt our enemies.

  2. February 17, 2009 at 11:02 am

    Reggie: You are exactly right. Unless we take hold of the budget debate, when this terrible budget is passed, we Democrats will get the blame for its cuts, its failures, and its inadequacies.

  3. Heather Pritchard
    February 17, 2009 at 11:59 am

    I just don’t agree. If they don’t make this deal, we could have a bankrupt California. Republicans would love this, all unions would have to renegotiate their contracts since they would be null and void in a restructuring. We can’t let them drown the Government in the bathtub.

    And we are loud enough, it partly has to do with people not giving a shit and that faction of John and Ken listeners that scare Republicans to death, Howard Jarvis Tax Association, etc.

    I just think it’s far more complicated than that and we have to revisit Prop 13 and the 2/3’s rule.

  4. February 17, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    We certainly have to revisit Prop 13 and especially its 2/3 rule.

    But with the current proposed budget the pain is all one way — the poor, the vulnerable, the unions, the middle class will suffer, while the wealthy and the Republicans be rewarded.

    And because the state Democratic Party has done such a terrible job of getting a clear message out, it will appear to the voters to be all the Democrats’ fault.

  5. Heather Pritchard
    February 17, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    Nope, I just don’t agree. There are people who understand that Democrats have had to compromise and that we are willing to sacrifice some ideology in order to get the job done, right now it’s about not letting the State fail. If that happens, it effects EVERYONE, not just those listed. Californians understand that the reason we are in this mess is because Republicans are obstructing the process. That even though we’ve compromised with them they refuse to budge on taxes.

    Republicans will always blame Democrats but I really doubt Democrats will blame Democrats for the cuts.

    We are facing this issue because of years, YEARS of compromise that meant irresponsible tax cuts when thing were good. It’s been piling up and both parties are responsible for this.

    It’s just FUBAR.

  6. February 17, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    Re: “Californians understand that the reason we are in this mess is because Republicans are obstructing the process.”

    I disagree.

    When I listen to the radio (NPR’s Pat Morrison and Larry Mantle very emphatically included), I don’t hear either the hosts or the guests — yes, including Democratic guests such as Karen Bass — putting the blame for the crisis squarely on the Republicans.

    On the other hand, unless we Democrats fashion a clear position on how to resolve California’s budget mess (not just for this year) and get our message out, it won’t matter.

    The Republicans will get credit for holding the line on government spending and taxes, and we’ll get the blame for both the budget mess and the current terrible solution.

  7. Northcountystorm
    February 17, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    I agree with Mr. Fox that Democrats need take charge of framing the debate on the budget. Part of the reason there has been an absence of acidity from the Democratic leadership in Sacramento is that their chances of wooing the necessary number of Republican won’t be enhanced by flamethrowing. The Dems do need to go to Plan B if they can’t get another vote and Plan B is No More Mister Nice Guy. However, while I believe the major culprit in this fiasco are Republican legislators, Democrats are not without blame for the budget situation. That position is just a mirror image of the John & Ken myth that the whole problems is Democratic spending.

    I disagree with Mr. Fox and agree with Ms.Pritchard on the underlying budget issue. Whether Democrats like it or not, California law requires a 2/3 vote to pass the budget. The negotiations between the leadership of both parties came up with something I’m not happy with but its the best the leadership could come up with–and even THAT might not get enough GOP votes. To simply say that we should just walk away from this, let the State fall into chaos and lead the Charge of the Progressive Brigade is not only naive (that the GOP would care) but insensitive to the max for the untold disaster this would put on workers, families and students in California. We’d be just as irresponsible as the Republicans who are willing to “starve the beast” and honor their “no tax” pledge to the detriment of their “support and defend the Constiutition” pledge in their oath of office.

  8. cook
    February 17, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    How did it come to this?

    Democrats have been the ruling majority for decades.

    Blaming the minority party for the ills of California isn’t working.

    Why doesn’t the ruling party fix their sinking ship?

  9. February 17, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Northcountry: Thanks for your comments — but I am not suggesting that the Democrats “walk away” from the budget or the budget crisis.

    I am saying that at this point — when we’ve already had several budget deals with the Governor that the Republicans have scuttled as well as remedial legislation that the Governor has vetoed — we should not be groveling for Republican support or making more concessions that further hurt the people of California.

    If you’re correct that the GOP does not care about the chaos that they’ve caused, then it means, as I’ve said, that the Democrats have done a terrible job of framing this debate — and placing the blame — for the voters.

  10. Northcountystorm
    February 17, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    Your headline said it all ” Let California Fail.” Those are the stakes.If you’ve moved from not supporting the budget to not “making more concessions” that I can understand. I’m not sure cutting deals(like Lou Correa’s getting more money for the OC) is groveling or even further hurting the people of California.

    When I commented that the GOP would not care I was referring to the Democratic campaign you referenced(I should have been more clear about that). They welcome the battle. Most of the GOP legislators do care about the state we’ve gotten ourselves into but are either scared of getting primaried and/or believe their own spin. Not that many Democrats aren’t in the same situation, but the port side of the caucus are voting for the budget even with the cuts.

  11. February 17, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    Perhaps I should have called the post “Let California Fail Again” or “Fail Even More,” or “”Fail So Completely This Time That Something Meaningful Gets Done At Last,” or “Fail So Completely This Time That The Voters (Especially in Orange County) Kick The Republicans Out.”

    Of course, for the voters to blame the Republicans, the Democratic Party needs to do so first.

    Remember Obama talking relentlessly during the campaign about the “Bush-McCain Recession”?

    And about how the “Bush-McCain recession” had crushed the middle class?

    I don’t hear our party leaders talking as though they learned anything from Obama’s lesson.

    Lou Correa’s getting more money for Orange County isn’t the problem. In fact, I applaud Correa’s efforts.

    The problem isn’t what any Democrat is getting — the problem is what the Democrats are giving away.

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