Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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(Not So) Young and Restless

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Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Or so Jerry Brown seems to believe — and show in the opening days of post-primary California. 

Less than a week into the general election in the race to be the next governor of the Golden State, Brown has wasted no time in attacking Republican Meg Whitman on not one but two fronts where presumably Brown would seem more vulnerable: a peripatetic nature, and White House ambitions. 

The first salvo came before all the votes were tallied, with Brown saying this at his victory primary

“It’s not enough for someone rich and restless to look in the mirror one morning and decide, ‘I want to be governor of California.’ We tried that. It didn’t work.” 

Hmm. Restless. As in: someone with a long history of  looking (or running) for something else to do? 

Is this how Jerry sees Meg?


As for presidential dreams, that came up when Brown literally ran into a Bay Area reporter while going for a jog up in the Oakland Hills. 

Call it a runner’s high, or a blood-sugar low, but Brown apparently views a heavy-spending Whitman as a dual threat: America’s first woman president, and wanting to bring brown shirts back into style: 

“It’s like Goebbels. Goebbels invented this kind of propaganda. He took control of the whole world. She wants to be president. That’s her ambition, the first woman president. That’s what this is all about.” 

Maybe Brown is indeed convinced that Whitman has presidential aspirations. After all, he’s seen that movie — heck, he was the leading man in three productions. 

First there was 1976, only two years into his first as California’s governor, when Brown jumped into Democratic presidential primary. For his troubles, he picked up about 300 delegates and finished a distant third behind Jimmy Carter. 

Four years later, in 1980, Brown gave the White House another shot — this time, taking on his party’s sitting president. Running on a theme of “protect the Earth, serve the people and explore the universe”, Brown’s campaign ended up lost in space. He raked in only 10% of the vote in that year’s New Hampshire, and crashed and burned in the Wisconsin primary. 

His campaign’s fatal blow: the decision to go live on the air in Wisconsin on the eve of the primary, with a 30-minute tv spot produced by Francis Ford Coppola. Coppola called his opus “The Shape of Things to Come”, stealing liberally (pun intended) from the story of the same title by H.G. Wells, about the future of the world through the year 2106. 

Here’s what viewers saw: a graphic that read “Live from Madisno” [sic] and a candidate whose wireless microphone didn’t work. Brown aides likened it to Claude Raines’ star turn in “The Invisible Man”. Reporters called it “Apocalypse Brown.” Brown’s campaign indeed had crashed and burned – kinda like the smell of napalm in the morning. 

The tale of the tape for 1980: $2 million spent, o wins, 1 delegate. 

Brown and Clinton going at it in 1992


As for the 1992 presidential run, the theme was “take back America from the confederacy of corruption, careerism and campaign consulting in Washington”. 

Brown won six states and gave Bill Clinton a scare (in the process, creating bad blood and a desire by Clinton to get even with his old tormentor many years later in this year’s gubernatorial contest, by supporting Gavin Newsom).
But again, Brown self-destructed in Wisconsin and New York — this time, after saying he’d consider the Rev. Jesse Jackson as a running mate. At the convention, Jerry used his stage time . . . not to endorse Clinton but to second his own nomination.

So why would Brown want to dredge up the idea of presidential ambitions? 

Perhaps, by putting the focus on Whitman, he keeps the spotlight off himself (and, yes, the idea of Brown going after another sitting Democratic president in 2012). Or, at least, he drags her into the conversation when blogs like this start traipsing down memory lane. 

And he begins the campaign the way you might expect: with less money to spend and less of an organization around him, Brown will run an insurgent campaign — well, “insurgent” in the sense that he’ll take pot shots at Whitman, try to keep her on the defensive and keep her campaign off-balance. 

As for the idea that Whitman is the “restless” one in the race, let’s look at the resumes. 

First, Whitman: 

1) Brand manager, Procter & Gamble 

2) Consultant, Bain & Company 

3) V.P./Strategic Planning, Disney 

4) President, Stride Rite 

5) CEO, FTD 

6) GM, Hasbro Playskool Division 

7) CEO, eBay 

8) Gubernatorial candidate 

Now, Jerry: 

1) Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees 

2) California Secretary of State 

3) California Governor (1975-1983) 

4) U.S. presidential hopeful (1976) 

5) U.S. presidential hopeful (1980) 

4) U.S. Senate hopeful (1982) 

5) Soul-searching nomad in exile (Japan and India, 1980s)  

6) California Democratic Party Chair 

7) U.S. Senate hopeful (1991) 

8) U.S. presidential hopeful (1992) 

9) Radio talk-show host 

10) Oakland Mayor 

11) California Attorney General 

12) Gubernatorial candidate 

That’s 40 years, 16 runs for office, and a search for relevance and acceptance that’s taken him from Sacramento to Iowa and New Hampshire, all the way to the other side of the Pacific Rim, and now back to Sacramento. 

As for Whitman, it’s 7 stops in the private sector over the course of 30 years, and now the one run for public office. 

You decide which one looks they’d rather be running than staying put.


Written by Bill Whalen

June 14, 2010 at 7:52 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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