Jerry Brown, the one-time progressive icon who palled around with paladins of the progressive movement like Noam Chomsky, has sold out.
Corporate sell-out might be the worst possible insult to any radical activist, but especially to a former bleeding-heart liberal who famously urged his father to spare the life of a man on death row. Yet, it’s an entirely accurate way to describe Brown’s political transformation from liberal icon to big-money politician. And, although he’s going to easily cruise to re-election in just a week or so, Brown’s victory, funded by the big corporations liberals love to hate, should serve as a devastating blow to the “ethos” (meaning “character” in Greek) of the progressive movement.
Just two decades ago, when Brown was campaigning for the White House, he swore off big money, or what he described as “the money-media system of control.”
“Having been so much a part of that system, I had not fully grasped the radical dominance of politics by the top one percent and the complicit role of the media,” Brown wrote in the early-1990s. “All this became clear once I swore off donations above $100 and refused to attend the sacred rite of end-less political fund raising with the wealthy.”
This year, Brown’s eschewed public events have relied exclusively on “the sacred rite of end-less political fund raising with the wealthy.” According to state campaign finance disclosure reports, Brown hauled in more than $17 million directly into his reelection campaign account. More than 500 contributions to Brown’s campaign are for $10,000 or more. Just 120 checks are valued at $100 or less. The average contribution to Brown’s campaign, $15,404, is owed largely to the max-out checks from a “who’s who” of the 1 percent.
There’s more than $300,000 from energy companies, including $54,400 from Chevron, $27,200 from Occidental Petroleum, $25,000 from Phillips 66 and $10,000 Exxon Mobil. Add $373,000 from gambling interests and another $300,000 from financial firms and insurance companies, both of which liberals criticize for profiting from the poor. Brown has cashed $27,200 checks from both Coke and Pepsi, or as progressives describe them, the “Big Soda” industry that causes diabetes.
At one time, Brown decried the “Disneyfication of existence.” Disney's family-friendly entertainment was, in Brown’s view, all a ruse to “create a perfect, corporate reality” where the masses could be “infantilized and soothed.” But the last year alone, Brown has taken home $53,900 in political contributions from the Mickey Mouse evil-empire.
“Money buys media,” Brown used to say, “media buys credibility.” To buy even more media, Brown has turned to millions of dollars in unrestricted campaign contributions to his ballot measure campaign committee. Among the checks to Brown’s initiative committee: $100,000 from tobacco company Philip Morris, $25,000 from oil company Phillips 66, and $100,000 from corporate titan Wal-Mart.
Don’t worry, big labor hasn’t been excluded from the party. The California Teachers Association has supplied $3.7 million to the initiative account under Brown’s control -- with $100,000 from the Teamsters and $125,000 from the International Union of Operating Engineers just for good measure.
Brown has spent that money on ads supporting Propositions 1 & 2, which conveniently feature Governor Jerry Brown. Although the ads don’t use the magic words “vote for Brown,” they help construct Brown’s myth of the “California comeback.” In Brown’s words, “When you have a large society you have to… have a certain mythology, you have to prop up the privilege.”
With his mythology as savior of the state intact, Brown has propped up the privilege by handing out special tax breaks to defense contractors, “green” car companies, and Hollywood studios, all while raising taxes on the poor and working class. During Brown’s tenure, California has led the nation in poverty – with 8.9 million people living in poverty. Nearly a quarter of the state lives in the poverty under the leadership of a man who once worked alongside Mother Teresa to help aid the poor.
It all must be quite devastating for true liberals like Noam Chomsky. Brown abandoned progressivism and went corporate. If Jerry can sell out, is there any hope for the progressive movement?
James V. Lacy is the author of "Taxifornia: Liberals' Laboratory to Bankrupt America."
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