Gov. Jerry Brown recently stated that he found the scandal involving the state Parks and Recreation Agency concealing millions of taxpayer dollars to be “boring.” Perhaps the governor’s remark explains much more than he intended.
Let’s look to Washington, D.C. for a moment. It seems that every few weeks Americans are warned that we are about to go off the “fiscal cliff” or some other financial crisis is imminent. Ask yourself, until a couple of months ago, had you even heard of the word “sequestration?”
At first, these warnings sound serious and legitimate. But since the shrill cries over the potential crises go on unabated, pundits are now speculating that the public may be dismissing strident claims of coming disaster as nothing more than “crying wolf” by the president and other politicians looking for an advantage in budget negotiations.
No kidding. These observations seem to be fresh from the Department of the Obvious.
At this point, only a policy wonk, or a masochist — some say these are the same thing — would not be suffering fiscal cliff fatigue, or, as the governor might express it, they are bored with the whole matter. Many people would be happy if they never heard the words “fiscal cliff,” or a phrase often associated with it — “kicking the can down the road” — ever again.
This boredom factor is also at work in California. Residents are tired of bad news like high unemployment, high taxes, a high foreclosure rate, job providers fleeing the state, a declining economy and declining personal income.
This helps explain the willingness by many Californians to embrace the governor’s declaration — which has been amplified by his enablers in the media — that as a result of his policies, including tax increases, our state budget problems have been solved. It has been so long since a state leader used “happy talk” with a straight face while discussing the future that Californians are anxious to accept these positive prognostications as fact, and Brown’s approval rating is soaring.
To the cynical, it might sound like Californians are behaving like the three young men in the insurance company TV ad, who, after a baseball breaks a window, are able to conjure up an insurance agent, a sandwich, the girl next door and a hot tub by singing the company jingle. However, it’s not that the public is naïve, it may be as simple as wanting a break from all the depressing news.
So, when looking at polls that are supposed to reflect attitudes about significant policy issues, keep in mind that the result may be heavily influenced by the fact that the general public finds the political class to be “boring.” But also keep in mind that, as those of us who are not “bored” with public policy issues predict, when the wheels come off the bus known as California, the public which currently seems satisfied with glossy happy talk will turn ugly. And that hostility will be directed at those who are now telling us that things are fine.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.