Gov. Jerry Brown's ability to focus on a small crime in the middle of a big crime is beginning to remind me of the French Captain Renault, who was famously "shocked, shocked" to find gambling in Rick's Cafe -- a pretext for closing down the establishment as part of a larger strategy -- even as he was handed his winnings.
Consider Brown's intervention in a relatively small pay dispute in the California State University system.
Brown sent a letter to the CSU board that objected to paying the new president of San Diego State U $400,000 -- $100,000 more than his predecessor. (The salary boost was approved by the CSU trustees on a 12-3 vote).
Brown argued that CSU administrators should be paid less -- as a way of sharing the sacrifices that are being made by students and faculty in California's public universities.
Now, $100,000 is a lot of money.
But not nearly as much as the $650 million in cuts that the Cal State system took in Brown's budget -- a budget that the governor himself has bragged about around the state.
Of course, those cuts are less a choice of Brown's than a product of California's broken budget and governance system, which protects all kinds of spending -- but not higher education. That's the system that Brown has chosen not to reform, apparently because it would involve very difficult political work.
But the governor is serious about protecting the system from financial disaster. Just ask him. And it sure would be nice to save hundreds of thousands of dollars on administrative salaries when you have to cut that $650 million.
You might hear a few negative pundit types suggest on the blogs that the governor was grandstanding by taking a position on the San Diego State president's salary.
These types might say that Brown was posing as a defender of its students and the university on a day that tuition had to be raised by 12 percent to cover the cost of the cuts in Brown's own budget.
But that's a cynical thing to say.
The governor is only trying to do what's best for the state. He's too old to be wasting his time with misdirection and political games.