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Press Clips: Sartre & Beckett vs. Krusty & Hobbes

Mar11

Top Calbuzz executives assigned our Department of Belle-Lettres and Ersatz Erudition the most pressing, mission critical job of the week: finding a literary reference to best describe the California Doomsday Scenario.

As the on-again-off-again closed door negotiations between Pope Jerry and Republican Capitol bishoprics  kept flickering, it became clearer by the hour that if their talks collapsed, the state was headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.

If, as our sources insist, the governor simply won’t countenance a Democrat-only solution to get his tax extension plan on the ballot, the specter looming over Sacramento, should Republicans stiff him, is that he’ll next put forth a cuts-only fiscal plan, which his party’s lawmakers will never accept, leaving the whole shtunk exactly…nowhere…

And so: What story, what narrative, what metaphor can our fine-writing-done-cheap trolls employ to cut to the chase in labeling this dreadful state of affairs – and that also fits in the headline?

Due consideration, of course, was paid to Sartre’s “No Exit” (“Hell is other people”), to Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” (“Nothing to be done”) and, not least, “Ghostbusters II” (“Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! 40 years of darkness! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!”)

And then, amid much mulling, what you like to call your Jesuit-trained governor came up with the answer himself: Leviathan.

Krusty’s elegant bookish solution surfaced in a conversation with our friend George Skelton, who churned out the most enterprising budget story of the week. While others in the Sacramento press corps kept writing the same process story (we name no names -  there’d be too many) Skelton captured the Little Pulitzer for Best Political Commentary That Includes Food.

Scoring the first substantive interview with the governor since the inauguration, George covered all the bases: 1) finagling his way inside Jerry and Anne’s loft, 2) copping a free turkey and cheese sandwich (and crucially, working the food into the story; 3) winning some face time with Sutter. All that plus, characteristically, asking Brown the key question: what does the future hold in the not-unlikely event you can’t reach a compromise with the GOP?

Events will unfold like this, (Brown) predicts without hesitation, if the Legislature fails to muster the required two-thirds majority vote … “I put up an all-cuts budget” … Then the Democrats change [the all-cuts budget] and put in gimmicks. Then I veto it. Then everybody sits there until we run out of money. It’s not going to be a pretty sight. It’s like one-two: No tax, all cuts, gimmicky budget, veto, paralysis.”

“It’ll be a war of all against all,” Brown added.

Or, as we say around the newsroom: “Bellum omnium contra omnes.”

Enclosed by the temporal boundaries of space and time in his (print is dead) column, Skelton unfortunately lacked the breathing room to fully explicate Brown’s classical reference. No worries – that’s who we are and what we do.

Bellum omnium contra omnes,” as every school child knows, was coined by Thomas Hobbes in 1651, and is pretty much the only thing anyone ever remembers about reading “Leviathan” in Humanities I in freshman year:

In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

Now, we don’t necessarily subscribe to the Hobbesian notion that mankind — in the absence of a powerful central authority — is innately avaricious and self-destructive. But let’s face it: if California can’t get a budget, there will be blood.

Forces on the left will set out to soak the rich, slap taxes on oil drilling and services, split the property tax roll and give communities power to raise taxes with a majority vote. Forces on the right will seek to cap state spending, unravel collective bargaining rights of public employees, slash pensions, eliminate union shops and decimate social services and environmental regulations.

Non belle visus.

That said, Calbuzz does strongly agree with Hobbes on at least one key matter of the human condition:

All generous minds have a horror of what are commonly called ‘Facts.’ They are the brute beasts of the intellectual domain.

Amen, brother.

Furry little monster: Speaking of nasty, brutish and short, Grover Norquist turned up this week in the biggest grandstand play since Terrell Owens stole pom-poms from  cheerleaders for the 49ers.

In a less than dazzling display of political gamesmanship, GOP honcho Ron Nehring trumpeted a letter he’d addressed to Brown, which was scooped up by Costco Carla Marinucci, purporting to invite him to debate the anti-tax tyrant at next weekend’s Republican state convention.

Brown mouthpiece Gil Duran responded with just the right tone, offering to send the aforementioned Sutter to debate the Great Toad Man.

Left   unanswered and unassuaged, however, was Nehring’s pitiable lament that Governor Gandalf was behind a “variety of verbal attacks” heaped on Norquist, as editorialists, columnists and sensitive New Media Guys have recently called him out for threatening retribution to any GOP lawmakers who dare cast a vote allowing people who actually, you know, live in California, to decide the fate of Krusty’s tax plan.

Alarmed by Nehring’s allegation, our Department of Ethical Standards and Cheap Shot Journalism Prophylactics swiftly checked our clips and determined that our recent characterizations of the D.C. demagogue – “nihilist,” “extremist,” “Emperor Nero” – could in no way be construed as “verbal attacks.” Whew.

Recommended further reading: Politico examines a hint of a split between Norquist and some establishment right-wingmen, while Washpost whiz kid socialist Ezra Klein conducts a scrupulously fair Q&A with the porcine provocateur.

ICYMI: What can we say, we’re suckers for a doggie conga line.


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There are 9 comments for this post

  1. avatar tonyseton says:

    So, um, like Nehring can’t find a single Californan to make the Republicans’ case? Maybe they, uh, like don’t have a case to make. Not one that makes cents.

  2. avatar chrisfinnie says:

    Sorry guys, but even in my day, nobody was required to read Hobbs anymore. I’m pretty sure it’s even less likely today. That said, this is the second time in as many days that Calbuzz has stunned with the breadth of your historical, philosophical, and literary knowledge. Even papal history! Impressive.

    I’d still like to know why nobody except me has even mentioned the possibility of a signature drive to put the tax extensions on the ballot. I know a lot of people who would circulate the petitions.

  3. avatar OC Progressive says:

    Wow.

    When I read the Skelton article, I was puzzled by “a war of all against all”. Not puzzled enough to Google the phrase, but momentarily nonplussed.

    Trust Calbuzz to have the answer and weave it into another of your extraordinary commentaries on the state.

  4. avatar GeoHagop says:

    Here’s my pitiful Assembly Rep: Nestande (R, 64) http://arc.asm.ca.gov/member/64/
    with rhetorical questions.
    1. Are we actually going to cut government to where we need to be: the pre-Hobbesian Dark Ages
    2. Are we going to live within the money that we (don’t) have? (because the plutocrats like Banker Fink, who favors a totalitarian government, stole from us) http://www.getsmartaboutbanks.com/2011/03/1600/
    3. Are we going to take the easy way out (let the voters decide) or make the tough choices (dictates) that Fink has commanded us to do?
    4.. Isn’t it clear that we’re not going to (allow the voters to) make the tax extensions?

    I know this guy – he’s kind of a sweetheart, but he is fully in the pocket of his sponsors and he knows it.

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