Budget battles spin out of control in Wisconsin and other statehouses, while professional conservatives from Washington, D.C., demand adherence to their vision of anti-tax purity.
Republican legislators pledge never to vote for anything that smacks of a tax, and Southern California radio windbags bully politicians who hesitate to pile into the anti-tax bandwagon.
In this coarsening partisan scene, California's septuagenarian governor took the extraordinary step of entering the legislators' lair the other day, and engaging in a civil conversation about this state's never-ending budget crisis.
"When you folks say, 'No, no vote, no plan, no,' that is not America," Jerry Brown told legislators. "It is not acceptable, and it is not loyalty to California."
Brown, once derided as a guy who beamed down from the moon, has become one of the few adults left standing on the public stage.
He arrived in the legislative hearing room without a script, as is his wont. But he knew what he wanted to accomplish.
Fellow Democrats need to make deeper cuts to close the $26.6 billion deficit, he told them, and Republicans must vote to place before voters his proposal to extend $9 billion in taxes that will expire later this year.
If the tax plan fails, Brown warned, he will answer with an all-cuts budget that will erase the deficit. Every state service would face reductions. Not that we should suspend skepticism, but Brown certainly seems serious.
"I don't want to be here for four years, and play games," Brown told the joint Assembly-Senate budget conference committee. "We've got to meet the moment of truth now. I would ask that all of you help me in that process."
Some lawmakers will help. Many won't.
To read the complete column, visit www.sacbee.com.