Archive for February, 2009

The years 1945 to 1965 were the Golden Age of the Golden State. The economy was booming and jobs were plentiful. A torrent of tax revenue (and the bond issues it supported) led to widespread expansion of the parks system, the university system, K-12 schools, and public works. In 1962, California passed New York to become the most populous state in the nation, but it long since passed it as the most envied and blessed.

But California has been haunted ever since by that Golden Age, as it has struggled to live up to the public expectations that were raised in happier times. The gold of California has hardly turned to lead, but the social upheaval of the ’60s, the inflation of the ’70s, the fiscal bodyblow of Prop 13 in 1978, the crash of the aviation industry in the early ’90s, the dot-com bust of the early ’00s, and the recent collapse of the real estate market have each made it more difficult to maintain the commitments the state took on when the future looked much sunnier.

From a distance, California politics look fatally split by the after-effects of the Golden Age.

On one side, we have the California Republican Party, whose voter base is people who mourn the passing of the Golden Age and hate the people who they think took it away. The children of the Okie and Midwestern migrants of the ’30s and ’40s refuse to pay for the schools and services needed by the children of the Latino and Asian migrants of the ’90s and ’00s. The California GOP committed suicide in the late ’90s to please this base, but will anything really make them happy?

On the other side, we have the California Democratic Party, which is committed to maintaining the full golden panoply of social programs in which Pat Brown clothed the state, regardless of its suffocating weight. Democrats have backed themselves into a corner with their own rhetoric, leaving themselves open to charges of being (at best) heartless and reactionary if they try to trim outlays to match sustainable revenues.

So we have a standoff in Sacramento between a party that is politically unable to approve of cutting programs and a party that is politically unable to approve of funding programs.

California has drifted from a Golden Age into a Silver Age and is now well into its Bronze Age. If California Democrats and Republicans — not just the parties, but the people in them — can’t find a common ground to work on, the Pewter Age is the next stop on the road.

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