I confess: on some level, I like Jerry Brown. He’s one of those guys – like Pat Moynihan, Paul Tsongas or Bill Bradley – who really, truly and honestly believes in the goals of liberalism, yet is periodically honest enough to be blunt about its failures in the real world. He even studied to be a priest, way back when. One can argue, as Steven Hayward has of Moynihan, that it’s a species of moral cowardice to cling to an ideology you know doesn’t really work, but even as many times as Brown and his comrades disappoint me, their candor, even unintentional candor, is still refreshing and amusing.
I thought of this when reading an interview CNN’s Candy Crowley did with Gov.-again Brown earlier this month, and how it dovetails with the latest reports from the CBO on the economy.
Brown’s interview is revealing on a number of levels, given that he’s one of the few elected Democrats left who has some historical perspective on how we’re re-living the Carter years (Brown was California Governor from 1975-83 and ran for President in 1976, 1980 and 1992). First, he basically advises President Obama to raise taxes, but frankly admits that Obama needs to lie about doing so to avoid Walter Mondale in 1984:
CROWLEY: So you think the president needs to run saying, folks, we need to raise taxes?
BROWN: Well, I wouldn’t quite put it in those terms, because that, we know from Mr. Mondale, is a big fat loser.
CROWLEY: Well, exactly, but you’re talking about stark contrasts.
BROWN: Well, the contrast is what the choice is. If you don’t want to pay the taxes, you’ve got to cut Social Security, the military, research, highways, hospitals, schools, universities. You have to retrench from being a great superpower. And I think there is a bill at the end of that that people might be willing to pay. If they don’t pay then America will never be the same.
So there is the tax reform. There is the deductions, the loopholes. There are a lot of ways that the president can present it. But it may be that because of the propaganda or the state of indulgence where we are, maybe the truth cannot be spoken in a way that makes it a successful campaign. If that’s true, then we are really in for it.
Yet when dealing with the state of the economy, Brown seems befuddled by the Return of Malaise, and certainly lacking in the swagger of his staffers:
CROWLEY: Do you see unemployment in California, absent any help from the federal government in the near term, –(CROSSTALK)
BROWN: In the near term — (CROSSTALK)
CROWLEY: — staying where it is?
BROWN: Well, when I was governor the last time it got up to, I think, 11 percent. So this happens.
Not exactly the tune Brown was singing during the 2010 campaign. Perhaps Brown could consider what else 2011 has in common with those years – specifically, a hapless liberal Democrat in the White House and Jerry Brown as Governor.
Brown isn’t the only one recalling the days of the Misery Index. Conn Carroll notices the CBO finding consumer confidence down to levels reminiscent of the Carter years:
[C]onsumer spending has been lower in the past year than the levels that would normally occur given consumers’ income and wealth – suggesting that other factors, such as pessimism about the prospects for income growth, may be restraining spending. As an example, for much of 2011 so far, only about 10 percent of consumers have expected to see real gains in their income in the year ahead, matching a level of pessimism last seen in 1980.
Yes, the business cycle produces recessions, as surely as the weather produces storms. Both Carter and Obama inherited messes, just as did Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush and John F. Kennedy. But the economy’s protracted lifelessness under Carter and Obama is not simply the arbitrary hand of fate. It doesn’t have to stay 1980 forever.