Jerry Brown And Barack Obama Going In Opposite Directions

Richard Rubin
Attorney Richard Rubin has taught at the University of San Francisco, Berkeley and Golden Gate University, is a regular columnist for the Marin Independent Journal and was Chair of the California Commonwealth Club Board of Governors, 2017-2019.

The mid- term report card is out for Governor Jerry Brown and it shows him getting higher marks than fellow Democrat, President Obama, whose troubled tenure is winding down.

A generation apart, Brown is receiving very favorable grades while Obama’s popularity is steadily eroding.

The reasons for the disparity are many and complex. But the starting point is economics.

The nation has rebounded after the near financial collapse of 2008 with positive news on the unemployment front, accelerated hiring in some quarters, upticks in consumer spending, and a revival of business investment.

However, these rosy statistics fail to take into account the millions of jobless who have simply given up looking or whose jobs may be gone forever.

In his State of the Union address last January, Obama intoned, “The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by—let alone get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.”

Calls for comprehensive jobs legislation have fallen on deaf ears with a slew of bills stuck in House committees if not already dead at the hands of Right-wingers who have taken blood oaths to resist anything this White House proposes.

With November elections looming, hardball politics trumps all. Few members of Congress who passed the Tea Party litmus test will be eagerly promoting job spending or immigration reform that could spell defeat at the polls as befell the erstwhile GOP Majority Leader, Eric Cantor.

Of course this is a self-perpetuating formula to continue doing as little as possible that might further irritate the already dyspeptic voters. Congress could probably close shop (some contend it already has) and those noticing it most would be the summer interns who go there eager to learn how government functions.

What they found is an embattled president who many were too young to have voted for stymied by reversals, some of his own making, and socio-economic rifts he did not create which have been widening since he took office.

Curing income disparity—the central theme of the Administration’s revamped agenda—is a noble goal, but meaningless if both the public and private sectors are not willing to be joint participants with each shouldering some share of the financial burden if both are to share in the rewards.

No real cure will be possible until there is genuine tax reform which redresses the growing imbalance between consumer spending power which was steadily diminishing even before the deep recession and corporate profit taking that has made the wealthiest one or two percent that much wealthier.

In California, itself a nation-state with enormous fiscal challenges and for years in chronic debt, the Brown Administration tackled this issue by getting approval of sales and income tax increases (on the top 3%) which left the state flush with a $2.4 billion surplus.

Much can be credited to Brown’s savviness and ability to tame a traditionally unruly legislature over which Democrats have near total control and can pass most laws without a single Republican vote.

Also, to placate the anti-spending forces, Brown agreed to set up a “rainy day” fund which institutionalizes a cost savings formula without having to forfeit critical programs—-a key element to resolving the Washington budget stalemate.

Unlike Obama, Brown does not have to worry about defiant lawmakers torpedoing everything he proposes. Facing certain re-election in November, Brown can think about burnishing a positive legacy while the President may be on a salvage mission.

Making no excuses for management lapses—especially in foreign policy—Obama had the deck stacked against him from the start. Brown, who had to mainly overcome a quixotic reputation as former governor, has thus far performed with flying colors.

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