If adult life is high school writ large, we can recognize Molly Munger. She's the ambitious senior who was left off the debate team or the homecoming court. But instead of accepting her defeat with good grace, she's making sure her nearest rival is rejected as well.
The Southern California heiress, the chief backer of the unpopular Proposition 38, an across-the-board tax increase aimed at funding schools, this week turned her guns against Proposition 30, Jerry Brown's attempt to mend the state budget through a sales tax increase and a hit on the wealthy. The result? Both tax measures are likely to be rejected.
In ads released this week, the Yes-on-38 campaign slammed the governor's measure, saying it was misleading and would allow "Sacramento politicians" to take money out of schools. (Memo to the uninitiated: Distrust any campaign ad that blames "politicians." Usually, it is advancing a much worse cause).
There are more than a few ironies to this development. For one thing, Munger's stance puts her on the side of her conservative brother, Charles, who has contributed more than $20 million to defeating the governor's initiative. Their sibling rivalry has echoes in the governor's family: Brown's sister, Kathleen, was defeated for governor in 1994.
After misgivings -- I still wonder about that bullet train -- I've decided to vote for the governor's initiative. You can make a good argument that schools don't spend their money well. The recent story about ex-county schools Superintendent Charlie Weis leaving the public holding the bag for his downtown San Jose condo illustrates that.
But governing California is hard, maybe even impossible. I'm reluctant to see students lose ground. Brown is at least making an attempt to repair the creaky vehicle that is state government. Molly Munger would like to convert the political debate into a Monster Truck jam.
What's going on? One explanation is that things have become personal: Brown tried to talk Munger out of her initiative, which would set aside money for education. In August, the leaders of Munger's campaign bristled at the call by California's two senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, for a cease-fire on the competing measures.
A second explanation is that political consultants are helping to drive this train. This is undoubtedly true, as the attack on "politicians" illustrates. "All Munger can do by going negative on Prop. 30 is drive a stake through the heart of school financing and make her political consultants very rich," wrote Calbuzz, the left-leaning political website.
The explanation I prefer is simple: This shows what happens when someone enters the political arena with too much money and too little sense.
Ordinarily, I have no problem with rich people squandering their money on political initiatives. It helps keep our economy humming.
Molly Munger is a compassionate woman who cares deeply about public education. She once persuaded her wealthy father to take her out of private school.
The saddest irony this week, however, is that her actions and her money will harm what she cares about most.