Just twenty-two days remain until the mid-term elections, which means in three weeks, we will no longer see those nasty advertisements that brilliantly show politicians in the most unflattering light. Attack ads show Jerry Brown from 30 years ago, which make him look 30 years older than he is now; Meg Whitman with jowls that appeared from nowhere; Barbara Boxer as a cadaver with deepest face lines, and yes, that HAIR; and Carly Fiornia as morphed into The Simpson’s Mr. Burns.
But sometimes the most deceptive TV advertisements are the ones that appear to be benign, and even friendly. Take the latest Yes on Proposition 23 plug. After all, who would argue with the smart-looking woman in a prim coral cardigan, who just happens to engage us in conversation while she picks up her mail, and then takes us to her perfect home, with lacquered hardwood floors and strategically aligned fruit basket? She wants to do her part on global warming, but gosh darn it, we have to get people working first.
The message comes across as a refreshing one from the usual doom and gloom voice that tries to scare us away from that horrific proposition candidate. Nonetheless, the truth is a little more complicated. Take our friend’s claim that “All Yes on 23 says is let’s wait until people are back to work.” True, California’s unemployment rate is at an alarming high of 12%. But the gentle suggestion to suspend AB 32 until California’s unemployment is 5.5% for four consecutive quarters is a ruse. The fact is that the Golden State rarely has had an unemployment rate at or below 5.5%. Why? Some would blame in high taxes and excessive regulations, but in most surveys, California lands around the middle of the 50 states on both metrics. California is also land of the transitory, where people are often out of work, whether it is because of seasonal agriculture; the nature of the entertainment industry, which often relies on freelancers; or the entrepreneurial Bay Area, where booms often follow busts . . . and those companies spike and crash during the best of booms and worst of busts. No one has revealed a study convincingly ties AB 32 to the jobless rate—at least, not one bankrolled by folks not affiliated with the Yes on 23 campaign.
And as for jobs, the clean tech sector is one of the few bright spots in California’s economy. California receives more clean tech investment that the rest of the states combined, and could lose $80 billion and half a million jobs by 2020 if the state does not diversify its energy portfolio. Meanwhile, policies as they stand are adding $20 billion and over 112,000 jobs. Regardless of where the numbers lie, the fact remains that clean tech is one a buzzing industry that hires Californians.
The ad also slams the “new” energy taxes, without explaining what those taxes are. The reality is that AB 32 does not impose taxes; it mandates that the state’s 2020 greenhouse gas levels be reduced to 1990 levels. The law itself is four years old; and whether companies pay for their emissions or rely on technologies that reduce their carbon footprint, dismissing AB 32 as a “tax” makes for a great soundbite; then again, accuracy is not often possible or desirable in a 30 second advertisement.
Passage of Prop 23 would sabotage one of the few bright spots in California’s economy. Change is often slow and there are costs, but nixing Prop 23 would only increase our reliance on foreign oil while shipping even more jobs and technologies abroad—an odd wish considering this same crowd preaches patriotism while saying no to foreign powers and offshoring and outsourcing.
Given the political climate, you have to wonder whether Republican Dwight Eisenhower would have seen his national infrastructure plans come to fruition. The Interstate Highway System had a huge affect on transforming America’s economy the past 50 years, and it was not cheap: $425 billion in 2006 dollars. Achieving energy independence will not be cheap, but the risks and costs of doing nothing could be far more costly when oil prices spike again. The state has a chance to lead again, but out of state money threatens to lurch us on a huge step backwards. California has its problems, many of them structural—but blaming unemployment on a bill endorsed by a business-friendly governor is not accurate—and even worse, the Yes on 23 coalition offers no solutions to our job woes. And why would they? Because it’s nuanced and complicated. Soundbites are easier.