Brown, Boxer and Choices
Since California’s political press corps insists on lumping together Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina (here’s the latest, from the Los Angeles Times, speculating on the two ladies’ temperaments), let’s look at the flip side of the coin: Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer.
Tweedledee and Tweedledumthey’re not. More like, TweedleDems in the looking-glass of California politics.
Jerry, born in April 1938, is 19 months Barbara’s elder. She turns 70 the week following Election Day (the Field Poll suggesting this is a bad year to be a septuagenarian candidate). Boxer first ran for public office in 1972 (she lost her bid for Marin County Supervisor). That was two years after Jerry’s first run (and win) for statewide office (CA Secretary of State).
Sure, they have their differences. Boxer’s a classic liberal. And Brown? He’s classically . . . quizzical.
But the two nominees are one-two on the Democratic side of the California ballot.
And both have something serious thinking to do in the near future.
For Brown, it’s all about tactics.
Does he start spending money now to fight back against Whitman’s ceaseless media blitz, or does he continue to sit on his war chest while his Republican opponent dominates the airwaves? Let’s suppose Jerry had $20 million to commit to advertising. If he started now and tried to match Whitman, he could be broke by Labor Day. And surely he remembers his sister, Kathleen, running out of dough and going dark in the last days of the 1994 governor’s race.
Then again, if Brown maintains his present silence, he risks allowing Whitman to dictate the terms of the election — the issues, the dialogue, the story lines. Nor does he inspire much confidence within the Democratic base which already is concerned about Brown’s somewhat lackadaisical approach to taking on Whitman.
To use a sports metaphor, it’s the equivalent in squash (I know, nice Republican example) of “controlling the t” — standing in the middle of the court, stroking the ball left and right, running your opponent ragged (think Gordon Gekko giving poor Bud Fox a near-on-the-court heart attack in “Wall Street”).
Come to think of it, Gordon Gekko understood the task at hand: “This is your wakeup call, pal. Go to work.”
As for Boxer, the challenge isn’t tactics. It’s thematics.
Last week, the junior senator toured the Golden State, using carefully orchestrated photo-ops to show how federal stimulus $$$ are creating jobs in California.
And, wherever and whenever possible, she called Fiorina a failed CEO who drove Hewlett-Packard into the ground.
The problem is: Californians don’t much like Boxer right now.
Her image disapproval rating, now 52%, has increased by one-third in the last four months. And her job-disapproval climbed. So much for a reservoir of good will.
And Boxer’s answer? Last week, it was a jobs tour that looked a little passe. And an assault on her opponent that only reinforces the negative that is her negative political persona.
So Boxer’s choice is to take the low road and continue the Carly-bashing — ramp it up, even — or offer something more positive, more futuristic and less divisive. If so, it likely has to be something deeper than hanging out with hard-hats at shovel-ready job sites.
Once again, Gordon Gekko: “I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them.”