Twenty-six years ago, when the world was young, Jerry Brown began his reign in Sacramento and, even though I wrote some rude things about him at the time, life was certainly fun. He changed the idiom of what these days is so pompously called the national conversation.
In the first week of January 1999, the incoming Democratic Governor, Gray Davis, chief of staff to Brown back then, came to Sacramento and gave an inaugural speech stagnant with cant, fetid with platitude. Here was a moment when the sixteen dreary, costive years of Deukmejian and Wilson were being bid adieu, and the only rhetorical flourish Davis could muster was to compare Willie Brown to a shopping mall Nordstrom’s. “This is not in my script,” he declaimed to Senator Dianne Feinstein, “but I notice you are sitting next to my anchor tenant in San Francisco, the great Mayor of San Francisco, Willie L. Brown Jr.”
There was no such amiable halloo for Mayor Jerry Brown of Oakland. To the contrary, Davis stuck it to his former boss by announcing, “Today we begin a new chapter in the history of California: The Era of Higher Expectations. We will embark in a new direction guided by our lasting values.” In 1974 Governor Jerry took a leaf out of E.F. Schumacher and told Californians that “lowered expectations” were on the Zeitgeist‘s menu.
It turned out 1973 saw the peak in postwar workers’ wages, so Brown spoke truer than he knew. For Davis, higher expectations is the right to strike it rich or, in practical terms, the right of the rich to strike it even richer. When he wants to invoke the acme of economic felicity he invokes the Gold Rush. Earlier on that inaugural Monday, Davis imparted the same message to massed lobbyists from the energy, agriculture and real estate sectors.
From Clinton, Davis has learned the basic lesson–offend and betray all core Democratic groupings but one: “And to those who would deny a woman her right to choose, let me offer this suggestion: Don’t waste the legislature’s time…. Now I will complete the sentence: Don’t waste the legislature’s time trying to pass bills restricting women’s constitutional rights. It simply will not happen on my watch.”
Democrats are now so terrified of being accused by the press of “catering to special interests”–women excluded because Democrats have read the polls and tasted the victories–that they make a point of kicking labor and blacks in the teeth to manifest Olympian detachment from notions of party and constituency. The Los Angeles Times cited flacks for Davis emphasizing the governor’s fidelity to this new style: “Davis’ advisors hope the resounding election victory will give him the authority to scale back his party’s wish lists and persuade those traditional elements [i.e., the working people who gave him most of his twenty point margin] to accept his ‘new Democrat’-style platform of limited government and support for business, as well as his campaign call for tax cuts.”
You never hear Republicans pledging to persuade business backers that victory means they must be “governor of all the people” and expand healthcare, workers’ rights, environmental protections, assistance to the poor and the disfranchised.