Thirty-six years ago, during the early stages of a young Jerry Brown's first governorship, actor John Travolta starred in a made-for-TV movie called "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble."
The film dramatized the true story of a boy born without the capacity to ward off infection who must live in hermetically sealed plastic, yearning for a real life. And it popped into mind as Brown and other politicians acted in ways this week that seemingly reflected lives in a hermetically sealed political bubble, disconnected from reality.
Californians are still struggling with the corrosive effects of a recession that's been the most severe since the Great Depression.
Officially, recovery has begun, but 2 million California workers are still jobless. To them, as well as at least a million more who have dropped out of the labor force or are underemployed, and their families, the recession is still very real.
Three California cities have moved toward bankruptcy this year. A half-dozen others, at least, are on the brink, and the state budget is billions of dollars out of balance.
It's no wonder that polls, including a new survey released Thursday by the California Business Roundtable and Pepperdine University, find that by huge margins, voters believe the state is on the wrong track.
Not surprisingly, too, those voters overwhelmingly dislike the performance of the Legislature, and are lukewarm at best on Brown's second gubernatorial incarnation.
Given that disdain, given that Brown and Democratic legislators are hoping that disaffected voters will approve new sales and income taxes, and given that their tax measure barely breaks 50 percent in the polls, one would think that they'd bend over backward to improve their public standing.
So what did they do this week to earn the public's trust?
Brown staged splashy ceremonies in Los Angeles and San Francisco to sign legislation for a bullet-train system that most Californians don't want. But he didn't set foot in the San Joaquin Valley, where the initial segment is to be built and opposition is particularly strong, and he curtly dismissed polls indicating that the bullet train hurts his tax measure's chances.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg tried to earn Brownie points by announcing a freeze on staff salaries. But media accounts pointed out that the freeze was imposed only after both the Senate and the Assembly had raised staff salaries even as they were passing budgets that slashed programs to serve children, the aged, the disabled and the poor, and cut the incomes of state employees.
In brief, those in the Capitol bubble just supplied opponents of the tax increase with even more ammunition to tell voters that politicians are not to be trusted with more of their tax money.