Monday, November 23, 2009

Jerry Brown Does Sunset Blvd.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown's Nov. 19 appearance at XIV on Sunset Blvd., was proof there is such a thing as being young at heart.

The former-governor-running-to-be-governor was in good form, voluble, humorous, and purposeful.

By way of confession, highwayscribery attended the event, sponsored by Generation for Change, with little enthusiasm for the budding Brown candidacy.

Covering the attorney general as a real-life reporter at press conferences, the highway scribe's alter-ego and rainmaker was left with an impression that, at 71-years-old, Brown had lost a step and gone mushy in his gray matter.

And besides, maybe it's time for some others to try. Politics these days, at least Democratic Party politics, have a transformational tinge that was reflected in the event itself.

Generation for Change, after all, grew out of Generation Obama Los Angeles following the president's triumph last November.

It is headed-up by two political operatives - Justyn Winner and Haroom "Boom" Saleem, still young enough to actually believe in all the Obama-inspired Hopela and energetic enough to convene a cabal of handsome, well-dressed, young professionals comfortable in venues like XIV (by Michael Mina) who, prior to last year' campaign were hardly worthy of political consideration.

And the kids are learning the hard way. Saleem noted that last year's ardor for change has given way to this years sense of disappointment.

Patience, grasshopper, patience.

For his part, Brown has always been more of a visionary type. His turns as secretary of state, Oakland mayor, and attorney general, while positive contributions, do not bring out the quest-like qualities in him that running for president and governor do.

For Brown wants to lead in big, system-changing ways and Generation for Change, thinks he has the stuff, and has come out early for him.

The ambience of confident cool hardly intimidated Brown who grabbed the microphone, and persuaded the crowd to separate itself so that everyone could see him.

He did not, Brown said, work from prepared speeches, "because they're boring. If you have something to say you should be able to say it without looking at some notes."

Freed from the tyranny of text on paper, Brown rambled on in an organized fashion only someone of his unique cast can.

He pulled the crowd, separated from him by decades of life lived, closer, talking about the nonpolitical part of his personal journey: "I've lived in Mexico and different countries of South America, I took Linda Ronstadt to Africa. I went to Japan and meditated for six months; not on the achievements of my life, but on the essential emptiness of it. And you're not going to find a lot of politicians who will do that."

Working the crowd afterward, Brown may have learned how few knew who Linda Ronstadt is (was?), but he's just getting going at this point, and that gap could link his living legend to a time when California was truly a Golden State.

The day's backdrop was a University of California Regents meeting two miles away at UCLA. There, student demonstrators clashed with police while inside "the board" jacked-up their tuition 32 percent.

The campus was crammed with so many police it begged the question of whether cutting the force's size might improve the tuition picture. The university's shock troops, with the help of California Highways Patrol(ers) handled the students' in a typically over-the-top fashion: rude, violent, disdainful of the fact universities exist for the kids.

It was tense, and unpleasant, and sad for those who remember the state's halcyon days.

Things clearly need fixing and if Brown's audience represented a generation of "change," he suggested they had much in common since he's been accused by political enemies of changing all his life.

"And it's true. But I'm not ashamed of that," he said, "because if you're alive, and your mind is open, than you have to change."

They ate it up without fully understanding how true the claims were. Brown's politics have always invited intense debate. However, the inherent truth of his commitment, his advocacy, and his willingness to go a new way are agreed upon by friend and foe alike.

Perhaps the crowd sensed it.

The quintessentially Irish-looking pol enumerated the many offices he has run for successfully and not so successfully.

"Many of the people I ran against are dead," said Brown, hinting of his hand in their demise, "because I'm a stressful person, and some of these other people in this campaign for governor are going to find out the same thing."

And them's fightin' words of which the impromptu address contained more; perhaps a tip-off to the approach Brown may take in the campaign, running on his experience rather than away from it.

Brown said the country had been, 30 or 40 years ago, a productive one that lost its edge and then continually borrowed to maintain privileges no longer earned the old-fashioned way.

He did not, of course, use the words "old" or "fashioned."

Brown conducted a brief analysis of the financial "leveraging" that brought the state and country to its knees, and referred to the resulting fiscal crisis as "the greatest case of grand larceny in American history."

Applause again.

The country's political system is, Brown observed, "in an advanced state of decay." He lamented the "wall of resistance" President Obama has run into at the hands of Republicans in Washington D.C. and said it was a symptom of that decay.

The attorney general did not run away from Obama, rather suggested the president was a kindred spirit who could use some help with the heavy lifting out on the Left Coast.

He wove is merry way through about a 20-minute discourse, jumping from subject to subject, free-associating, joking, and holding the group's attention through the background chatter of the adjacent restaurant, and clatter of pots in the close-by kitchen.

California's budget deficit, large as it is, amounts to only 1 percent of its annual gross product and is fixable, said Brown.

He is, naturally, the person to do it. "These other people running don't know how tough it is to run the state. I've worked in it my whole life. I do."

For political junkies, the evening on Sunset offered a good sampling of what Brown is testing in the campaign's early phases.

His effort at tapping into the energy of a generation that knows little of him, but offers some of our best prospects, demonstrated the flexibility he claims to possess in real time.

More than anything, it was a tip of the hat to the hoary old notion that youth must be served... very good restaurants.

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