Friday, September 10, 2010

Is Jerry Brown an Enigma?

Peter Schrag, in an opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee today calls democratic candidate and former Governor Jerry Brown an "enigma.Schrag writes "Some people who have followed Brown's career believe that his experience as Oakland's mayor – and probably his term as attorney general – have made him a much more focused executive than he was as governor 30 years ago. In that era his prophetic impulses sometimes seemed to get in the way of the politician; he preferred to preach and philosophize rather than manage. It made him interesting and often admirable but also caused him trouble.

In that respect, the old record may not tell much (though it will tell more than Meg Whitman's blank slate). But it should tell Brown that, especially in this age of rabid anti- intellectualism and populist disdain for elites, especially elites of the educated, the most dangerous thing for a politician is to look too smart. If Brown, the anti-politician, has one great flaw, that's it. On the other hand, this really is the era of limits." Schrag, who was a supporter of Brown in his first incarnation as governor seems to be trying to put lipstick on a pig.

Whether he was an enigma or not he was a horrible governor. Schrag claims that Brown ran up a surplus during the first couple of years that he was governor and that is correct. But it could be argued that his propensity to preach rather than govern helped to cause Proposition 13. ANd indeed when the provisions were adopted, that surplus became an easy way to transfer power from local to state government.

Schrag considers Brown an intellectual. Again, Brown had a tendency to rely on obscure authors like E.F. Schumacher, who wrote the hackneyed "Small is Beautiful" as you go back to this Waldenesque vision of the world it looks even more laughable than it was when it was first written. Brown, in order to look intellectual, flitted with a whole bunch of other unconventional writers. Some had some provocative ideas but many were just fringe lunatics. His appointments reflected his "philosopher" role. He arguably appointed the worst secretary of transportation in the state's history and three of the worst Supreme Court Justices (who were recalled). The three justices supported a radical vision of the legal system which voters soon recognized was bizarre at best.

HIs tenure as a radio talk show host, as Mayor of Oakland and as AG show the same kind of irresponsibility. In some ways Brown reminds me of a figure on the right, Robert Bork. The only difference is that Bork could be legitimately called an intellectual. For someone who took a couple of tries to be able to pass the California bar exam, it is hard to justify the term intellectual.

Look at the problems of the state today - an overwhelmed infrastructure, lousy public schools, outrageously expensive public employee pensions. Each of those can be traced, in part, back to the eight years of Brown's governoship.

This election is between the dfevil we know and the one we do not. Past experince suggests that candidates who come with no government experience don't do very well. But if the choice is between no government experience and the record of Jerry Brown, then for at least one voter there is not much of an enigma.

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