Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Jerry Brown: The Chessman Cometh

Were he sympathetic, Bill Clinton might tell everybody to “chill out” and enjoy Jerry Brown in action.

It is possible that Brown is old and that his seemingly lax campaign is a sign that he is past his time, stuck in the halcyon days of 1976. One California blogging outfit refers to him as "Krusty."

He may, in fact, not know what he is doing. But Brown deserves everybody's indulgence, because he has earned it.

Too many Gov. Moonbeam characterizations have obscured the fact it was Brown's iconoclasm and independence that earned him the disdain of the Sticks-in-the-Mud Club.

So, until he demonstrates otherwise, Brown must be taken for a man with a plan. And we can expect that plan to diverge from the conventional wisdom.

Brown can’t help himself, never could. And he has been called many things, rarely "stupid," more often “brilliant.”

He’s a thinking guy. He doesn't have to be recognized for the novelty of his ideas for them to affect our existences because they have in so many facets of California, and even national, life.

His long-standing presence in government as governor of California, mayor of Oakland, state attorney general, secretary of state, and whatever else, has produced that rare bird who knows the state from basement to helipad.

All the money in the world, or even Meg Whitman's, can't substitute for total comprehension of the system in play, let alone partial responsibility for its construction.

And so we have an article in the, “Los Angeles Times,” by Seema Mehta, taking worthy note of the fact that, as the autumn beckons, Brown is essentially tied with his free-spending opponent.

The former e-bay chief executive officer has spent $104 million of her own money in an effort to blanket the airwaves and "put Brown so far behind by Labor Day that he would never catch up. That scenario has failed to materialize," wrote Meta.

"Since winning the primary in June, he has spent almost nothing, has rarely appeared on the campaign trail and has yet to air a single ad against Republican Meg Whitman."

That can't be a simple oversight.

One theory is that, with all the flack flying around the cable-sphere, maybe Brown sees a different shelf-life for a candidate than has been traditional. The longer you're out there, the more slings and arrows of misinformation you can be hit with.

Ask Whitman.

As low-key as he has played it, the attorney general has still dodged a few swift-boatings, because when somebody spends $20 million telling countless people over and over again that you're a sow-sucker, it's probably going to stick.

Another possible explanation is that the content of Whitman’s media “buys” are low-grade. It should not come as a shock that getting elected entails more than a quest to run the most commercials.

It helps, but it's not everything.

highwayscribery finds the Whitman spot that claims "Meg has a plan" for solving California's problems, pretty disingenuous.

Either it’s a big secret to be revealed after voters reward you with the bill of sale on your purchase of high office, or it's something we're entitled to weigh on its merits. Kick it around, as it were, before we decide.

Brown's early pitch already runs counter to the media-juiced "anti-incumbent" fever. And he mostly gets a pass on the charge, because you can't attack a guy as being wacky and a deadbeat officeholder at the same time.

Nobody will ever accuse Brown of the being an "old boys" network guy, and therein his lasting appeal in a state that marches to its own drum.

Brown, like highwayscribery, doesn't seem to be buying the whole anti-incumbent narrative, because he has out-and-out said his experience, the actual breadth of it, makes him better qualified than Whitman to solve the state's woes, as this highwayscribery post on an early campaign event attests to.

It's a message that has got to resonate.

The passe' notion of a "business leader" coming in to run government the "right way," Whitman's leitmotif, has been tried and tried until we've figured out business and government aren't the same animal.

Meg’s actually the second e-bay politics spin-off. Steve Westley, a former board roomer at the online retailer, crapped-out against the hapless Phil Angelides in the last gubernatorial sweepstakes.

The business-person/politician has lost its allure ever since Americans became aware of how a greedy merchant class squandered the nation's financial patrimony.

The great conservative attempt to prove self-interest and market efficiency were part of a spontaneous synthesis found in nature failed. Smart, educated people in suits can act with the same instincts the guttersnipe 100 floors below in the street shadowed by the corporate tower.

It boggles the mind that Wall St. is angry about the Obama gang’s “anti-business” policies. Proven buccaneers, they oddly expected to again be handed the keys to the economy without adult supervision.

"Salon's" Andrew Leonard cites a report by ProPublica's Jesse Eisinger and Jake Bernstein documenting how, "even as the housing boom collapsed, Wall Street's biggest investment banks continued to furiously sell each other crappy mortgage-backed securities. No one who was paying any real attention wanted to buy collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) constructed out of imploding subprime mortgages, so the originators of the CDOS simply unloaded them on their co-conspirators. In the process, no economically useful service was performed, other than the enrichment of a small coterie of bond dealers and managers. The eventual damage caused, of course, was beyond enormous."

Says Leonard, "These jokers are annoyed at the prospect of wealth redistribution? What do they think they were doing over the last couple of decades, aside from sucking wealth out of the 'real' economy and redistributing it to themselves. And now they are are upset about higher taxes? What they should really be nervous about is the prospect of 20 years in prison."

Whitman is selling her work days in that overheated and false economy as proof she can effectively wrangle legislators from San Francisco and south Orange County alike.

Brown clearly thinks conceding the point links her to a bygone and discredited model of business star.

Mehta quotes him saying, “There are two things unprecedented in American political history. One, the $100 million plus that Whitman has paid on her campaign, most of it from her own pocket, and two, the virtually know effect it’s had.”

Whitman’s toeing a fine line between the ‘Triumphant March” from Aida, and becoming a colossal joke. The grotesque proportions of her spending demonstrate a certain overheated approach to big projects when sobriety would seem the order of the day.

The dynamic sets the table for an opponent to mark differences between herself and regular folk. Most Democrats are afraid to accept this inherent gift woven into American politics.

Brown’s not one of them.

Machiavelli, whom Sir Moonbeam has probably read inside-and-out, noted that a prince needs a certain degree of fortuna to prevail at court and with the public.

Brown has had his fair share of late.

First, the assertion his campaign has spent no money on advertising camouflages the fact other groups are running ads in his stead, narrowing the apparent gap in airwave time purchased by the two campaigns.

Second, the article pointed out how, “Notable stories -- the arrest of a suspect in the Grim Sleeper serial killings in Los Angeles and the pension and pay scandal in Bell -- allowed Brown to stay in the spotlight in his day job as attorney general."

Mystified by Brown's low-key, "rope-a--dope" campaign, pundits and opinionmakers are hedging their bets the attorney general is blowing it. They might make for more entertaining columnists and talking heads if they treated Brown's drive, or lack thereof, as interesting political chess worthy of watching.

Most media have painted themselves into a box by sowing the image of Brown as some kind of nutbox. Because who's going to listen to a nutbox?

But here he is, still toe-to-toe with a bottomless paid announcement machine named Meg Whitman. Now the real game begins and Brown can take advantage of debates, his thin coffers, the state's Democratic majority, and whatever else he has up his sleeve, to make a real run at the job he held in another, different time.

Fascinating (Maybe).

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