Here are two certainties for Sacramento as we head into the summer. As hot as it’s been the past week, and regardless of one’s position on climate change, it’s going to get hotter. And regardless of an English- and Spanish-speaking population, Jerry Brown will start reciting Latin phrases.
It’s one of our governor’s quirks – his love for a language otherwise reserved for legal briefs and pharmaceutical refills. Perhaps it’s his inner seminarian yearning to be free. More likely, it’s what Brown professed last year during a moment of candor before a California Chamber of Commerce audience: “It’s obscure and it makes you smarter than everybody.”
Like the governor, I toiled through four years of Latin in my younger days. Little did I know at the time, but trying to make sense of Ovid, Cicero and Cato the Elder was good preparation for making sense of Edmundus Geraldus Brown the Younger.
Nervos belli, pecuniam infinitam. Loosely translated: “Endless money forms the sinews of wars.” California’s state government isn’t awash in “endless” money, but more budgets in the black will mean more tussles such as the current back-and-forth between Brown and Democratic lawmakers. Here’s a tip: always bet on the executive in these matters, just as Rome had a fondness for strongmen who liked to make such clever boasts as …
Veni, vidi, vici. Julius Caesar’s supposed brief missive – “I came, I saw, I conquered” – could be the governor’s re-election theme as regards untangling the state’s budget mess (though not entirely correct, as the beast remains conquered only so as long as Proposition 30’s tax hike remains on the books). The problem with this as a marketing ploy: It’s too candidate-centric, at a time when his party can use the governor’s help (and that of his $20 million war chest) in regaining a legislative supermajority and making Democrats less of a minority presence in the U.S. House of Representatives. And that raises a key issue for 2014.
A capite ad calcem: “From top to bottom,” as in: Will Brown and the Democratic slate run on a unified theme, or is it every man and woman for himself/herself? There’s a bad precedent for this: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s re-election in 2006, when, had a little more attention been directed down the ticket, it might have saved Republican Bruce McPherson in that year’s secretary of state race. Then again, the Governator never suffered from a lack of ambition.
Ad altiora tendo. For Schwarzenegger, as well as Brown, “I strive for higher things” – for both gentlemen, saving the Golden State from climate flux. But what else is the current governor thinking, besides high-speed rail, water tunnel and unraveling the Gordian knot of long-term debt obligations? Given another four years as California’s Caesar, would Brown have the nerve to cross the Rubicon and do battle with tax activists – revisiting Proposition 13 (perhaps a good idea in the big presidential turnout year of 2016) or making Proposition 30 permanent (that could wait until 2018)? All of this may remain a mystery until 2015.
Errantis voluntas nulla est. “The will of a mistaken party is void” – Is the standard-bearer of California’s “mistaken” party worthy of engaging in debate? Neel Kashkari, Brown’s Republican opponent this fall, has a legitimate point: Brown pined for a series of town hall-style debates in 2010. Where’s the same fire in 2014? Only two people know the answer to this question, however, as Brown has adhered to this modus operandi since returning to the Horseshoe in 2011.
Tertium est a populo. “Three’s a crowd” in an inner circle in which it’s Gov. Brown, his wife and de-facto chief staff, and staffers who come and go (just ask Steve Glazer, who first met Brown in 1978, ran his gubernatorial campaign in 2010, but couldn’t land his boss’s endorsement when he ran for the Assembly this year). Then again, Brown can afford to be reclusive what with a re-election that seems a near-certainty, national newspapers lining up to sing his praises and Republicans trying – and mostly failing – to convince voters that California’s Caesar is more Gaius Julius (a dictator) than Augustus (back in ancient Rome, a champion of major reforms). In which case the real Latin phrase that pays for Brown is …
Illegitimi non carborundum. “Don’t let the bastards grind you down” – be it Democrats who don’t share Brown’s frugality, Republicans who covet his job, or, maybe worst of all, columnists who prove that sprinkling Latin into a conversation ad absurdum doesn’t necessarily make one smarter, despite the governor’s assertion.
Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be contacted at email@example.com.