Two years ago, when Gov. Jerry Brown was trying to reclaim the governorship he had left 28 years earlier, he often said that his age, maturity and lack of political ambition would allow him to succeed where others had failed.
Brown said he would patiently attack the state’s political issues, especially the deficit-ridden state budget, vowing, “I will tell the truth in ways [that hadn’t occurred] in years past.”
Those “years past” included his own first governorship, when Brown developed a reputation for saying whatever sounded politically advantageous at the moment, regardless of how it may have differed from what he had said previously.
Most famously, he denounced Proposition 13, the landmark 1978 property tax limit, as “a rip-off,” but immediately after its passage he proclaimed himself to be a “born-again tax cutter,” sponsored a state income tax cut and then ran for president in 1980 as an apostle of limited government.
When confronted with his contradictions, usually by journalists, Brown would figuratively shrug and utter some variation of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s aphorism, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
In other words, he implied, political shiftiness is the hallmark of a superior intelligence.
As Brown was seeking the governorship again in 2010, he implied to voters that he had grown up, wasn’t going to be flaky anymore and would give them nothing but straight talk.
However, as Brown attempts to gain voter approval this year for a ballot measure that would raise income taxes and the sales tax, he has been reverting to type, once again issuing pronouncements and political slogans that are specious and self-contradictory.
He has insisted on several occasions that “100 percent” of the proceeds from his tax hike would go to schools when, in fact, the schools get little or nothing in net terms. But on other occasions he has touted it as a way of balancing the nonschool portions of the budget, which is more accurate.
He also described his measure as a “millionaires’ tax,” even though the increased sales tax would apply to everyone and the income tax hike would kick in at $250,000 in income.
When asked about the latter, he said, “Everybody who makes $250,000 becomes a millionaire very quickly if you save.” But last week, during a radio interview, he backtracked, saying, “I’m not calling it that,” and blamed the characterization on the state Democratic Party.
“What happened,” Brown insisted, “was, I sent my petition out to my email list, and I put an attachment of the actual signature petition, and the Democratic Party had put some thing, some little explanatory material and put ‘millionaires’ tax.’”
Flip-flopping and shifting the blame. It is, as the inimitable Yogi Berra once observed, “deja vu all over again.”
Dan Walters covers state politics for the Sacramento Bee.