Secret Calbuzz Memo: Quayle is Key to the Budget


In our long-running effort to make sense of the self-cancelling political views of Californians, the Calbuzz Department of Public Attitude Deciphering and Paradoxical Enigmas  has turned for fresh insight to an unlikely analyst: former Vice President Dan Quayle.

Long before Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman and Donald Trump, the nation’s 44th vice president pioneered the politics of buffoonery, so he seems superbly qualified to explain the nonsensical opinions of California voters, whose breathtaking ignorance about state government enables the belief that they are entitled to a splendid array of public services virtually for free. And indeed, while combing the countless volumes of stupid Quayle quotes assembled by internet scholars – here here and here for example – we stumbled upon les mots justes, compounded by Hoosier Danny during the 1988 campaign:

“Votes are like trees, if you are trying to build a forest,” Quayle said. “If you have more trees than you have forests, then at that point the pollsters will probably say you will win.”

We sure as hell can’t argue with that.

For us, Quayle’s trenchant observation makes as much sense as anything else in trying to describe the current state of affairs in Sacramento, where the out-of-ideas intellectual exhaustion of a Democratic governor and the toxic recklessness of the Republican minority have combined with the all-about-me bleatings of economic special interests and the two-headed contradictions of an ill-informed, passive electorate to shape a desultory existential crisis, in which the very notion of democratic governance is called into question.

While the yeoman-like Dan Walters appears to be the last person left in the Capitol still capable of rational thought about a short-term way out of the morass, our own Tom Meyer today imagines a more chilling vision of the future, as the long-term, real-world implications of our something-for-nothing electorate take hold in the public schools.

click cartoon for a larger view.

Skewed and screwy: John Myers superbly summed up the skewed and screwy battle field on which school kids, teachers and education programs are at once the most important players and the biggest pawns, Riffing on the recent PPIC poll results on Governor Brown’s budget proposal, Myers writes:

The poll also seemed to confirm the suspicion that education leaders are a victim of their own success at mitigating, as much as possible, previous budget cuts. Only 35% of parents surveyed said their child’s school has been “affected a lot” by recent cuts; a combined 60% said those cuts had impacted things either somewhat (41%) or not at all (19%). In other words: where’s the crisis?

Therein lies a key challenge for Governor Brown and legislative leaders: getting voters — should the issue of taxes ever make it to the ballot — to see the idea of additional cuts as devastating rather than inconvenient. After all, PPIC also found that 52% of those surveyed believe California K-12 spending is at or above the national average, thus suggesting there are probably a number folks who think there’s room to cut. In truth, though, California actually ranks near the bottom of states in per pupil spending.

But here again, the poll suggests a path for the governor and his supporters to follow — again, should an election come to pass: 65% of likely voters say they’d be “very concerned” about laying off teachers.

That’s exactly the case made so far by the California Teachers Association in ads broadcast on TV stations around the state. Of course, fewer people (52%) felt the same sense of concern about bigger classes, an idea unpopular with teachers. And in an unrelated question, 69% said that a teacher’s salary should be “very” or “somewhat” tied to student achievement.

The issue of class size points out a limitation — perhaps, even, a danger — in governing by polling. How does one square the fact that only 52% of respondents would be “very concerned” about larger class sizes… yet 77% said eliminating K-3 class size reduction programs is a “bad idea?” Does that mean they’d limit it to bigger classes for older kids? Or can an idea be “bad” but also necessary?

That’s the kind of question that makes our head hurt. Really bad. And why we’re reduced to looking to great minds like Dan Quayle for answers.

P.S. The question of Class Size Reduction raised by Myers’ take on PPIC, while mostly peripheral to the overall deficit fight, is a prime example of the maddening complexity of politics vs. policy debates strewn throughout the budget battle. Peter Schrag and the Bay Citizen’s Jen Gollan churned out two good, if conflicting, takes on the subject this week.

ICYMI: Stewart on the Obama Gets Osama saga was the alpha takeout on the subject although Jimmy Fallon’s Trump whining about the president interrupting “Celebrity Apprentice” was a close second, as Colbert finished a distant third.

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  1. avatar tonyseton says:

    The education miasma is not solvable when parents aren’t getting their children ready to learn and when teachers are doing such a poor job in the classroom. Just look at the results…the high school drop-out rate and the number of graduates who can’t even read. Compare our schools to those in other countries. This is less a matter of budgeting and more a matter of transforming the culture. We need a 220-day school year. We need to direct 40% of the students into vocational programs. We need to teach citizenship. One wonders if it wouldn’t be practical to close down our schools and start afresh.

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