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The voters are furious -- but are they madder at government or big business? That question could define the next political era
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ILLUSTRATION BY DANNY HELLMAN

But to craft a more comprehensive solution, he said the progressives are going to need to use their growing coalition to connect the dots for voters. "We need to run a citywide campaign around a whole constellation of issues," Stearns said, citing Muni, schools, taxes, resistance to mean-spirited measures like sit-lie, and the larger issues raised by the Brown and Barbara Boxer campaigns. "We need to figure out a way to put all that in the same coalition and run one campaign around it. And we can do that because progressives retained control of the DCCC."

 

THE STRUGGLE AHEAD

Although they've made great strides, San Francisco progressives are still struggling with a mayor who sees the solution to every budget crisis as cuts — and with a growing number of efforts to blame public employees for the city's fiscal problems. Even Jeff Adachi, the public defender once considered a standard-bearer for progressive causes, is pushing a ballot measure that would require city workers to pay more for their pensions.

Gabriel Haaland, who works with Service Employees International Union Local 1021, made the right point in the pension debate. "Big financial institutions crashed the stock market," he said recently, "and now they want to blame city workers."

In a blog post on the political website Calitics, Robert Cruickshank put it clearly: "The notion that 'everyone needs to give back' just doesn't make sense given our economic distress. We've already given back too much. We gave back our wages. We gave back our ability to afford health care and housing and transportation. We gave back the robust public- sector services that created widespread prosperity in the 1950s and 1960s. We gave back affordable, quality education. And too many of us have given back our future.

"No, it's time for someone else to give back. It's time for the wealthiest Californians and the large corporations to give back. For 30 years now they have benefited from economic policy designed to take money and benefits from the rest of us and give it to those who already have wealth and power."

That's a message that ought to appeal to anyone who's hurting from this recession. It ought to cross red and blue lines. It ought to be the mantra of a new progressive populism that can channel voter anger toward the proper target: the big corporations that created the problems that are making us all miserable.

If Jerry Brown could adopt that narrative, he could change the state of California — and the state of the nation.

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