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Steve Lunetta: Inaction can be quite costly

Right About Now

Posted: April 11, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 11, 2011 1:55 a.m.

In 1863, our nation was in the grip of a terrible Civil War. Or as my aunts in Texas call it, the War of Northern Aggression. Pronounced “Noh-thun Ag-resh-uh-n.” 

The Union Army, under an inept general named Ambrose E. Burnside, had just lost a costly battle before Christmas in 1862 near the sleepy little Virginia town of Fredericksburg. Burnside attacked Robert E. Lee’s well-entrenched Confederate Army of Northern Virginia on the outskirts of the town.

Burnside didn’t seem to realize that attacking uphill, in the open, against an entrenched enemy hiding behind a stone wall was not a good idea.

After the dust settled, the Union had lost more than 12,000 men and were thrown back across the Rappahannock River.

President Abraham Lincoln — not the most patient of commanders in chief — replaced Burnside as the leader of the 130,000-man Army of the Potomac. He chose a man named Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker.

Interestingly, Hooker gained a certain amount of infamy because of the poor discipline and frequent parties held at his headquarters. Legend has it that a band of prostitutes followed Hooker’s division and became known as “Hooker’s Brigade.”

Eventually, the women came to be known as “hookers.”

My aunts would further point out this moral corruption of Hooker and the whole “Noh-thun” cause. Funny how they forget the whole slavery thing.

Hooker decided to try something daring. Splitting the Army of the Potomac, he took more than 70,000 of his men 20 miles north of Fredericksburg and crossed the Rappahannock, hoping to surround the Confederates near the hamlet of Chancellorsville.

What Hooker hadn’t counted on was the intelligence and skill of his opponent, Robert E. Lee. A brilliant tactician who, ironically, had been offered the command of the army he was facing by none other than Lincoln himself, came up with a daring plan of his own.

Lee split his much smaller army in two and immediately raced north to meet Hooker. After crossing the river, Hooker’s troops began to press the rebels, but Hooker inexplicably decided to pull back into defensive positions around the town and wait.

This strange move was just what Lee needed. Sending Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson to the left with a large force, Lee managed to encircle Hooker in the same way that Hooker intended to encircle Lee.

But what happened next was truly astounding. Hooker did nothing. Even when reports of a large Confederate force moving around his flanks were received by the general, he refused to take action.

Worse still, when the battle was joined, Hooker still did nothing. Standing in the doorway of his command post during the battle, a stray cannonball hit the lumber beside the door. Knocking him senseless and disoriented, Hooker refused to relinquish command to a subordinate.

The result was disaster. Leaderless and without a battle plan, the Union Army fell back across the river, suffering substantial losses of men, material and morale.

The cost of indecision, the cost of doing nothing when the circumstances demand action — the Battle of Chancellorsville is a clear warning from history to us now.

The state of California is in grave condition. We are at a historic crossroads that will determine whether our state will be a decent place to live in the future or will slide into a morass of anarchy, chaos and insolvency.

Gov. Jerry Brown, like a modern Joseph Hooker, is watching the special-interest groups and public employee unions encircle his position. And yet, he does nothing.

Brown has the superior force, the clear mission and the resources to do what is right and get the state going in the right direction.

Our budget crises will not be solved by increasing taxes again. Spending cuts and pension reform are the harsh medicine that the state needs now.

The governor’s refusal to listen to the Republicans is particularly disappointing. Presented a list of 53 ideas to help balance the budget, Brown dismissed them as “demands” and abruptly cut off talks. How mature. 

This inability to think outside the box has left Brown with few options, other than the standard Democratic plan of increasing taxes. And in a recessionary time, that won’t sit well with the general California public.

The governor needs the Republicans and should work with them to bring about a brighter future for the state. Inaction and delay will only lead to disaster.

Steve Lunetta is a resident of Santa Clarita. He can be reached at


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