In the late 1970s, while Ronald Reagan was governor of California, Curt Gentry, best-known for his book on the Manson cult murders, wrote a tongue-in-cheek fantasy novel, The Last Days of the Late, Great State of California. It was a pseudo-documentary, tragicomic account of the lives of a variety of California residents while the ultimate natural disaster sent their state sliding into the Pacific ocean.
Ever since, at regular intervals, there have been entirely serious predictions that California is on its last legs, that the Dream of Gold Rush Days is gone forever. This prognostication (often by envious pundits who don't live in California) has cited governmental bungling and economic depression and social dislocation as the causes of the State's imminent decline and fall.
But never before has the "dissing" of California been so clearly linked to conservative ideology as it was last week, after an op-ed piece, "California Isn't Broken," appeared in the Los Angeles Times. Probably to the surprise of the authors, California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer and Palo Alto economist Stephen Levy, their mild, statistic-laden defense of the State's future generated a national outpouring of right-wing invective, full of innuendo, some outright lies and even personal attacks.
It's easy to understand why the national right-wing has suddenly embraced anti-California defamation. The right cherishes a joyous nightmare in which state government declares bankruptcy, while unemployment - fueled by the flight of oh-so-righteous corporations - skyrockets, and the schools and hospitals are overwhelmed by the influx of illegal immigrants.
It's vitally important, in right-wing political calculations, for all this disaster to strike, and soon. Because, in the last election, the People's Republic of California bucked the national voting trend, electing Democrats to every State constitutional office, joining a legislature which has been in Democratic hands for many years. If all these damned liberal Democrats were actually to solve California's very real political, economic and social problems, it would endanger the right's dearly-beloved dream of a Palin-esque future, heralding the next Reagan Revolution that will surely follow a bungling Democratic Administration in Washington.
So California must fail.
Lockyer and Levy had the temerity to suggest otherwise, pointing out, for example, that rising government expenditures had to be considered in the context of the state's vast population (37 million and counting); that while some corporations had moved manufacturing facilities elsewhere (understandably to take profitable advantage of under-paid laborers), venture capital continued to flow into the state, to launch the eBays and Googles of tomorrow.
Some right-wing critics disputed the Lockyer-Levy statistics. Fair enough. But others purported to see hidden meanings in the article, contending that Democrats like Lockyer really intended to raise taxes, instead of cutting government spending - but were too timid to say so. Others descended to attacking Lockyer personally, a good target for the Republican right, since, in the November election, he received more votes that any other state official in America.
Lockyer and Levy will no doubt present a detailed rebuttal of their own. But there are a few fine points they may leave unsaid. One is that Lockyer, far from being party to a plot for higher taxes, has been the state's foremost Democratic advocate of fiscal realism, criticizing both fellow Democrats and Republicans in the legislature for resorting to accounting gimmicks in successive state budgets that have contributed to the present mess in Sacramento. Another is the inanity of one outrageous comment that Lockyer himself symbolizes "the problem" in California government - because he has devoted his entire adult life to public service, never having "worked in the private sector" (like, for example, billionaire Meg Whitman, that shining example of corporate wisdom). Worse yet, even before Lockyer was first elected to office in 1973, he was a public school teacher - oh my gosh! - and managed George McGovern's quixotic presidential bid in California, the ultimate political sin to neo-cons of the 1970s who deserted their Democratic heritage for greener Republican fields.
It's true that Lockyer has never worked outside government, but not for want of opportunity. He could easily have left public office to accept partnerships in law firms and venture capital firms that would have brought him ten times his state salary. But he could never bring himself to end his government career by lobbying that same government to enrich corporations or wealthy investors. That integrity should earn him respect and a badge of honor, not right-wing derision.
The right-wing critics say Lockyer and Levy are "in denial," living in a "state of delusion", blind to California's teetering on the brink of catastrophe. On the contrary, these are practical, hardheaded men who clearly understand that there are fiscal and social problems that must be creatively solved in the very near future. But, first and foremost, they are proud Californians who refuse to accept the inevitability of the sky falling and the state sinking. They have little doubt that the problems will be solved and that California will rise again as home of the social, economic and political avant-garde of America.