I have very few personal views on the California budget crisis. I'm bad with numbers. But I couldn't resist writing about the online slapfight between David Dayen of Calitics and Phil and Jerry at Calbuzz.

It all started when the Commission on the 21st Century Economy (a.k.a. the Parsky Commission) started putting forward some proposals that would include a flat(ish) tax and replace the corporate tax with a net revenues tax. Calbuzz provided an analysis that pointed out the difficulty of getting consensus on such thorny issues.

Calitics, however, called the proposals crazy right-wing insanity,
the real shock doctrine is happening behind the curtain, with a proposal engineered with bipartisan support, that will really permanently turn the state into an experiment in Chicago Boys free-market fundamentalism, not unlike the conservative "paradises" created in developing nations, all of which are crashing, by the way.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is NOT Pinochet, but I get the Chicago Boys metaphor nonetheless. Taking advantage of political expediency, he is importing minions to enact extreme economic experiments that could overthrow the established liberal order.

But they raised Calbuzz's ire by calling them "useful idiots" who enable such extremism by advocating the moderate path.

Calbuzz responded by lampooning Calitics' hyperbole with some of their own,
As regular readers of Calitics, we admire your passion, if not your common sense. But let’s be clear that our mission at Calbuzz is quite different than the ideological ranting that is your stock in trade: it’s called “journalism.”

Let’s be blunt: You knew bupkus about the maneuvering and politics unfolding behind-the-scenes at the tax commission until we started covering it. To attack us for digging out the story is to mistake the map for the territory, using the same kind of tiresome, rigid, WATB ideological projections as you decry in the Yacht Party.

I don't think Calitics was behaving like a "whiney ass titty-baby," but they were certainly reacting from one end of the political spectrum. It could've stopped there, with Calbuzz claiming the moderate position against Calitics' unapologetic progressivism. But it didn't. Calitics re-reacted to Calbuzz's critique-of-their-critique with a classic ad hominem attack,
Unlike you, I don't pretend to hide my opinions on the very clear economic and tax policy implications of the Commission's report behind some false veil of objectivity. Most of my comments were directed at the report itself, and the way in which a flat tax would quite obviously shift the burden of taxation to the middle class and the poor; but I couldn't help but notice clear language like...
the impending bankruptcy of state government should be sufficient to show players at every point of the political spectrum not only that sweeping change is needed, but also that everyone will have to compromise to keep California from sinking into the 9th Circle of Hell

...which certainly allows people, in my view, a window into how you determine the best policy, defined as the midpoint between whatever pleases those hateful hippies and the ranters on the right. That may be a nice and quick methodology, but it's anything but rigorous, and I'm pretty sure it's an apt description. After all, wasn't one of you the communications director for Gray Davis, who was not above bold expressions of centrism and a fear of the spectre of "The Left"?

(How did pumping out that daily message for ol' Gray turn out, by the way? What did that guy do after his two successful terms were up? Just curious.)

Wow. David Dayen does not like Gray Davis, I guess.

This exchange highlights the upcoming war within the Democratic establishment over how to respond to the voters' rejection of the budget compromise. Moderates will argue that the disaster at the ballot box shows Democrats need to be open to a fundamental change in California's revenue system. Progressives will argue that the result shows Californians are fed up with revenue neutral solutions and they want a real change.

To put this simply, California is majority Democratic, but not majority liberal. While some well-meaning activists on the left see this as an opportunity to install a social democratic economic system in the biggest state in the U.S., there remains an aggressive and electorally viable plurality that does not believe the conservative revolution is over yet.

There are technocratic debates that need to be had, of course, but they won't happen here (or on any other blog). Rather than seeing progressive Democrats and moderate Democrats go at one another's throats, I would like to see them rally behind what I believe is their unifying value which generates California's Democratic majority.

Namely, the political system should put the preferences of the welfare state before the preferences of the tax structure. What I mean is, the purpose of democracy should be to measure the types and levels of government service demanded by the people, then it is the responsibility of elected officials to extract the revenue necessary to meet those demands. To reverse that model as conservatives do - measure the people's tax preferences then design the government structure that is affordable under that preference - devalues democratic government.

Government of the people is more than a cost-benefit analysis or a necessary evil, it is an open-source forum, the first, final, and only arena where the differences among individuals and communities can be resolved through passionate discourse instead of political violence.* It is the closest we have to a society-wide family, and like your family it is more than the sum of its economic parts.

*The space between those two is often narrow but it always exists, it must exist.

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