The lesson of California - Page 5

ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL: The Golden State that invented the tax revolt is failing, but the conservative movement presses on
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Image by Tom Tomorrow

Opposition to taxes is now so deeply embedded into the psyche of the California electorate, and such a core tenet of today's Republican Party, that elected officials who tout fiscal responsibility allowed the state's debts to go unpaid (destroying its credit rating in the process) and its education and transportation systems to be decimated rather considering new revenues.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's spokesperson Aaron McLear told us, "He believes we ought to live within our means and pay for only the programs we can afford."

That simple talking point gets repeated no matter how the question is asked, or when we point out that it means we're being forced to live within historic lows this year. But they claim the people support them.

"We had tax increases on the May ballot and they were rejected by a 2-1 margin. We should listen to the will of the voters," McLear said.

Never mind that this regressive, dishonest package of temporary tax hikes was opposed by the Guardian and a variety of pro-tax progressive groups. McLear wouldn't even admit that point or respond to it honestly.

And he's certainly right that most polls show a majority of Californians don't want new taxes. But these polls also show that people want continued government services, more investment in our neglected state infrastructure, and a whole bunch of other contradictory things.

That's why newspapers and analysts around the world are looking at California, the world's eighth largest economy, and wondering (as the Guardian of London headline asked Oct. 4): "Will California become America's first failed state?"

In many ways, it already is. The question now is whether we'll try to learn from and correct our mistakes. Ryan Riddle contributed to this report. -----------

THE CONSERVATIVE RELIGION

When I asked Lewis Uhler, one of the architects of the Reagan revolution, what Americans believed in these days — where the people he likes to talk about who hate the government (but are also admittedly disillusioned with Wall Street) turn — he answered simply: religion.

It should come as no surprise that many religious fundamentalists tend to side with the free market conservatives — both ideologies require a leap of faith and ignoring certain troubling facts, such as increasing disparities of wealth, natural resource depletion, and global warming.

Their arguments mostly make sense — until these inconvenient truths come up.

Certainly, turning over more public resources to free market capitalists, cutting taxes, and slashing government regulation will spur private sector economic growth, just as advocates claim.

But that growth has a cost. The wealth won't be shared by everyone. Indeed, poverty has persisted even through even the economic boom of the 1990s — but almost everyone will be affected by underfunded road, education, public safety, and other essential systems.

As the conservative movement has successfully limited taxes and cut regulation over the last 40 years, working class wages have stagnated as the rich have gotten richer. Many of the world's oil reserves have peaked and gone into decline, and rapidly increasing carbon emissions have collected in the atmosphere and caused global warming.

So how do conservatives respond to these realities as they argue for the continued dismantling of government, which is the only entity with the scope and incentive to deal with these problems? They simply deny them.

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