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December 2nd, 2010 1:54 am
Jerry’s Choice

Jerry Brown, the once-and-future governor of California, has precious little time to shore up his legacy.  Next month, he’ll retake office and be at the center of the nation’s worst state government budget crisis.  Most think he’s in the pocket of the public employee unions who spent millions supporting his campaign.  California’s Victor Davis Hanson posits a different possibility.

If the liberal Brown were to now take on out-of-control public spending, he would be immune to the charges of callousness that destroyed multimillionaire outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and would have likewise smeared Republican billionaire gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman had she won. Perhaps given that California already has the highest sales, income and gas taxes in the nation, Brown could shrug and say that any more tax increases would set off an even greater stampede out of the state.

And at 72, the once overly ambitious Brown — who ran for the presidency three times — can forget about leapfrogging into the White House. The question now is Brown’s final legacy, not his next career move. We know from the implosion of the European Union that unchecked big government inevitably leads to public insolvency. But does it also ensure, Brown might ask, moral bankruptcy?

In a postmodern world of omnipresent cheap consumer goods and all sorts of government-subsidized cradle-to-grave perks, can “small is beautiful” Jerry Brown teach Californians not just that too much stuff is no longer affordable or sustainable, but, at a deeper level, that our out-of-control excesses, appetites and dependencies are no longer good for our souls?

Before he chose politics Jerry Brown spent time in a seminary discerning whether he had a vocation to the priesthood.  If he wants to be remembered as one of the state’s greatest leaders perhaps he would do well to remember that being fiscally responsible isn’t just good politics, it’s also good morals.

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