Shameless in Sacramento

Published on February 25th, 2009

California epitomizes a failure in leadership across the nation

By Mark Cromer
February 25, 2009

Big Brother now has a fourth axiom to instill in the masses: Failure is Success.

One could easily add that to the slogans of George Orwell’s prescient 1984, as failure dressed as success is now the stagecraft that’s played out along the halls of power in Washington D.C. and in Sacramento.

Americans have been given plenty of iconic images to populate the nightmare of their financial meltdown: corporate CEOs testifying to their obscene “bonuses,” forests of foreclosure signs that look like tombstones to the American Dream, and the SRO crowds at the unemployment and welfare offices.

But the most grotesque visuals yet to emerge from this crisis have come from our elected leadership, as we have watched the very men and women who drove our car off the cliff now take glorious credit for the desperate and possibly doomed rescue effort.

In spite of the most grim and uncertain atmosphere to grip the nation since the Cuban Missile Crisis, an air of bizarre ebullience can be seen bubbling among legislators in Washington. As the Senate prepared to pass President Obama’s nearly trillion-dollar stimulus bill, majority leader Harry Reid offered effusive and self-congratulatory praise for the senators that wrangled the massive bill to fruition.

Last week in California—the state that has led the nation in the housing collapse and spiraling unemployment—major newspapers ran front page photographs showing Republicans and Democrats appearing downright giddy after they passed a massive tax increase to cover a nearly $50 billion budget deficit.

Given the colossal magnitude of the twin emergency measures, both of which are assuredly ‘Hail Mary’ passes that may fail, one might think the mood in the nation’s capital and the California statehouse would be far more sober, if not downright somber. In fact, considering that it is the same cast of characters from both parties in Congress that allowed gross mismanagement to lead to a series of disasters that spread through America’s financial and housing markets with crippling effect; some contrition might seem appropriate; if not some lowered-head humility.

I think most Americans would like to see some outright shame from our elected officials.

Instead, we were treated to the haughty spectacle of the very people who allowed the crisis to happen on their watch congratulating themselves for their belated and horrifically costly response to this historic catastrophe.

Nowhere is this more surreal than in Sacramento, where a professional political class from both parties—a small cluster of men and women who perennially seek public office for pure self-empowerment—have plunged California into a fiscal crisis so deep and chronic that it may well mark the end of the Golden State’s ability to function as a coherent entity. In real world terms, the state could effectively dissolve into disparate regional zones of relative autonomy, with wildly divergent degrees of law and order.

The state, once the freewheeling (and free thinking) gem of the union, has watched its public school system fail, its prisons fill up, its skilled-labor manufacturing base disappear and its treasury bloat and purge like a bulimic on a binge. California’s real unemployment rate is now cresting toward 20-percent, and yet there is still no demand from Sacramento that the Feds aggressively enforce immigration laws that would remove illegal workers in the state.

The state is now locked in perpetual drought and faces dramatic water use reductions as vital supplies literally dry up; yet the legislators in Sacramento have been whistling past arid reservoirs for years, refusing to spell out a plan for a sustainable population.

And all of this has transpired as California’s population continues to surge, posting explosive growth through illegal immigration even as the state’s native middle class continues its exodus.

Yet in Sacramento, the band has played on as legislators indulge a lavish dance of entitlement, showering themselves with accolades and proclamations as they slaughter what’s left of the fatted pig and divvy up the bacon to feed very select interest groups they rely on for election.

The whole spectacle betrays an air of imperial fiat that has settled over the state capital—and the nation’s capital as well—one that has left the politicians brazen in their self-assessments, demonstrating they are fearless of recrimination for their blatant failures and stunning incompetence amid the vulgarity of their excesses.

And perhaps this offers the surest sign yet as to what the future holds for California and, eventually, the rest of the nation: a dysfunctional state that lords over a teeming population that’s impoverished and restless, yet one that has been conditioned to rely on the government.

By that time perhaps the political elites will be commissioning massive statues of themselves, fitting monuments to the epic failure that had become success.

Mark Cromer is a senior writing fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization.

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