Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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Brown Out — In Under 15 Minutes

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So I watched Governor Brown’s State of the State Address.  Then, I watched it again . . . and again . . . and again. And the hour still wasn’t over.

Jerry Brown delivering the 2011 State of the State -- his eighth as California's governor

For those who bet the over-under, Brown took care of business in a little under 14-1/2 minutes. Toss out the opening platitudes and it was more like 13 minutes. That’s not a surprise if we recall our California history. Back in the ’70’s and ’80’s, it wasn’t unusual for Brown to deliver a SOS in 10 minutes or less. Last year, Arnold Schwarzenegger delivered his final SOS in 27 minutes.

My thoughts: 

1) This governor has a lot of friends in labor. They spent heavily to get him elected. You’d think one of his union buddies could arrange for a TelePrompter to “accidentally” fall off a truck in front of the State Capitol, to spare viewers from the distraction of California’s chief executive looking down at his text, which is what happened Monday. Maybe the gubernatorial TelePrompter was a victim of Jerry’s budget cuts. Or maybe Arnold hijacked it backed to Brentwood. The bottom line: Brown needs moments like to connect with voters. That requires making eye contact with the camera. At least two-thirds of this speech had Brown looking down at his words, and not at the camera. A terrible visual.

2) Or maybe Jerry got back to the office late Monday afternoon after yoga and a power-nap, all-of-a-sudden realized he had a big speech and jotted down a few thoughts on a legal pad before dashing off to the legislative chambers. Only kidding. Still, it’s jarring in the age of cutting-edge technology and calculated telegenics to see a governor looking so poorly styled.

3) “The vision thing”. Brown raced through his vision of California beyond the budget mess, like he was reciting a prayer from back in his Jesuit seminary days. I’m privileged to have an office at the heart of the Stanford campus. That means I’m surrounded by smart students. The way Brown raced through the “vision” portion — passing mentions of water, the environment, agriculture, transportation, Bill Gates & Steve Jobs, better K-12 and higher-ed, California as a restored dream etc. — one wonders how much of this he’s thought through. A lot of Stanford freshman could have come up with this riff. If the governor wants to continue writing his own speeches, he should at least ask some former gubernatorial speechwriters (Gary Delsohn and Phil Troustine come to mind) for their feedback. He needs to be challenged, to lift the rhetoric.

4) Moment of Freudian honesty. After connecting the unfolding in drama in the Middle East to his call for a June special-election vote on spending cut and higher taxes (“When democratic ideals and calls for the right to vote are stirring the imaginations of young people in Egypt and Tunisia and other parts of the world, we in California can’t say now is the time to block a vote of the people”), Brown told Republicans they could applaud if they like, even stand up and yell “block that punt”. “Punt” isn’t the word I’d choose when Plan A is lawmakers passing the buck (pun intended) to the electorate. Mubarak may abdicate. Sacramento is, in many respects, abdicating its responsibility to make hard choices by hiding behind voters’ skirts.

5) What this State of the State or re-stating Official Sacramento’s reaction to Brown inaugural address and budget proposal, both done earlier this month? The governor reiterated the Democratic objection to spending cuts and the Republican opposition to tax increases, big cities’ unhappiness with cuts in redevelopment spending, and special interests rearing their backs. All insider baseball, if you ask me. Boooring.

6) Think I heard four of five rounds of applause, not including the introduction. They all sounded thin, which tells you only Democrats were doing the clapping. Correction: Republicans did applaud when Brown indicated he was open to pension reform and cutting regulation. But read his lips. He specified “unreasonable” regulations. Clearly, this was Brown signalling where he’s willing to deal with Republicans for their budget votes. Time for GOP lawmakers to decide if they want to engage.

7) The speech ended with Brown assuring lawmakers that once the budget is settled, “the rest will be easy . . . easier.”  Why wouldn’t it be, when what happens beyond June is vague and undefined.

8) Final analysis: Brown is a clever politician he needs the Legislature on board in the next months, so better to make it a speech about Sacramento. What’s he not is a naturally gifted rhetorician — his own words just don’t flow. There’s a school of thought that the humble approach — self-written speeches, herky-jerky delivery, blunt words — will resonate with voters hungry for authenticity, and thus willing to buy into the special-election gambit. Still would it kill this governor to consider a little production value?


Written by Bill Whalen

February 1, 2011 at 2:32 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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