California: Lone Raider From the West

Jerry Brown paddles his “canoe politics" into presidential waters. The winds and currents are strongly against him, especially with Edward Kennedy’s move into contention. But the Californian is demonstrating to many that he’s neither fluke nor fake.


Anew enthusiasm and a new set of rhetorical symbols are emerging in Governor Jerry Brown’s bid for Democratic votes across the country. Gone are the misty evocations of Zen consciousness, Latinisms culled from the Jesuits, whale-saving on the ship Greenpeace, fads gone along with the collar-tickling scraggle of hair past the ears and the elongated sideburns. The Governor’s dark head is now trimmed modishly close, just as his figure has the daily runner’s popular taut, lean look. At forty-one, he is still convincingly young, befitting one bent on being America’s shepherd for the next decade. He has even, it would seem, set aside his priority of last January, the call for a constitutional convention to compel a balancing of the federal budget. The California governor is now building his “politics for the ‘80s” on old-fashioned, undisguised patriotism, a call for reviving “American productivity,” a sound dollar, investment in American industry rather than foreign, tax policies that will restore family patterns of saving, business and government teamed to a “national strategy of investment.” He talks now not so much of retrenchment in public spending as of shifts in its purpose, public funding for job-producing areas.

“The core of my campaign is to wake up America to the fact it is facing stagnation unless we change our philosophy from consuming away the present and stealing from the future. Instead we have to build for the future, marshal public and private capital to improve the technology, improve the environment, and improve the skills of the working people. I’m talking about redirected priorities. I’m talking about work, building.

“In thousands of different programs, government is committed to empowering people to consume. Those consumption types of programs will have to grow more slowly and the money we save will have to go into energy-related, transportation-related technology, rebuilding the urban infrastructure, training people to upgrade their skills. That’s what I call investment.”

Of course alarm about inflation’s corrosive impact and about the decline in productivity is universal. But Governor Brown has managed to strike a positive note, both in recommending action and in touching the mood of the country with a deliberate evocation of patriotism, a rallying of confidence, dotting his speeches with such phrases as “American strength,” “American selfsufficiency,” “American independence.”

It isn’t a new theme. In 1976, before Carter’s nomination, Brown was asked on Issues and Answers if, like the Georgian, he considered himself “antiWashington.” “No, I’m pro-America,” he said. “In other countries workers are earning as much or more than American workers, and often their output makes American workers lose their jobs. The money we generate here, we send out to other countries and they make items to sell in the United States and displace the very workers who generated the capital that went out to the rest of the world.” He sums up: “The paramount issue is how to strengthen America. Our country has to rejuvenate itself, become less dependent on other countries, more self-sufficient, more proud as a people.”

On Bill Moyers’s television program in May, Brown stressed: “If we go on as we are . . . I think the results will be disastrous for democracy.”

Hardly the Doonesbury version of “talking Californian.” No longer “go with the flow”; rather, restore the work ethic. The ambiguities, the digressions into elusive philosophical musings, the flip rejoinder, are replaced now by an outpouring of standard American political soapbox talk, pointing to the 1980s. Labor and business can hardly fault the new Brown line. His advocacy of tax policies to encourage investment and to free capital and his concern for largescale job stimulation may well cheer both groups.

Elaborating in an interview, he said, “If we can invest in South Korea we ought to be able to invest in New Jersey or New York or Michigan. The old Marshall Plan mentality that we’re the big brother helping Japan and Europe is far less applicable in 1980 than it was in 1960. What we have to do without protecting incompetence or inefficiency is maintain a viable work environment in America.”

As the Governor was declaiming in this style recently in San Francisco, a cluster of reporters uttered a collective gasp when his phrase-making climaxed with “We must put America first.”

“Wasn’t Charles Lindbergh the last to use that phrase?” one newsman murmured. But at the edge of the 1980s, Brown cloaks such demagoguery in a sophisticated discourse on the national economic decline. Audiences love it.

Brown never floats trial balloons haphazardly. His themes are carefully designed to fit the public mood, and he has clearly concluded that just now confidence, both individual selfassurance and confidence in the national will and capability, is what this country most hungers for and what President Carter has failed to provide.

“Malaise?” Governor Brown pondered when asked about President Carter’s alarm at underlying discontent. “No, I don’t encounter that. I think people are ready to throw themselves into a mighty effort. They are responding. They are not afraid of the future.”His aim, of course, is to contrast himself with a President widely felt to be indecisive.

He sticks with his free-style bid for the Democratic nomination, convinced he has something important to say, and quite undeterred by mounting support for Senator Kennedy. Kennedy, he acknowledges, “represents a proud tradition.” But he tries to fix that tradition as a thing of the past, a captive of aggregate special interests.

“We have a post World War II politics,” Brown scoffs. “The political world today is based on images and ideas of the fifties and sixties, when we were expanding. The growth rate isn’t there now. The poor and the elderly are being abandoned by irresponsible policies. The government will not become more generous as the economy stagnates. We must generate new wealth first. There is no greater ‘people’ program than a viable economy.”

The untraditional mix Brown makes of fiscal conservatism, diminished government regulation, benign energy resources rather than nuclear power, environmental protection, and affirmative action for minorities and women bewilders many Democrats. It fits no familiar pattern, Democratic or Republican. Over the years, puzzled liberals in California have dropped off his team, those who favored some government moves to ease unemployment, those who worried about deteriorating mental hospitals, those who sought modern prison approaches and found the Governor focused on punishment, those who generally felt state affairs suffered from his inattention while he flirted with diverting ideas. Despite social problems made more apparent by Proposition 13’s money squeeze, Governor Brown has stayed a disciple of frugality, favoring now a new public spending stricture which virtually bars future expansion in state or local spending. Restricting government and pushing for vitality in the private sector is so counter to liberal precepts that many think Brown’s conservatism is a personal and ideological challenge to Kennedy, which may have influenced Kennedy’s assessment of his prospects for 1980.

Brown is committed to injecting into the campaign views that he thinks mirror the aspirations most Americans share today, and which he thinks past political creeds miss. Remarking on this, Gray Davis, one of his closest advisers, said, “Jerry will drive the political dialogue of this campaign. It will be his ideas and his priorities that will emerge as the central pivot for debate. Carter and Kennedy will be talking old ideas, the traditional ideas. What turns out to be provocative and interesting, Jerry will inject. The campaign, I’m betting, will revolve around his ideas.”

The focus on domestic issues contrasts with President Carter’s immersion in foreign affairs and permits the Californian an escape, at least for the present, from dealing with such problems as international entanglements in the Middle East, SALT II, the Soviets, the Chinese, and Africa. Brown’s foreign policy discussions hug our own continent: he urges a “common market” with Canada and Mexico, a regionalism to counter the European Common Market. But he will venture that the “trilateral philosophy” is “misplaced internationalism.” “With multinational corporations,” he says, “the focus is more on the profit maximization than the welfare of American citizens. We have to build up our own society.”

The new swing in Governor Brown’s compass—love of country the new symbol, budget-balancing displaced by “a strategy of investment,” ecology interwoven with high finance and industrial rejuvenation — smacks of the turnaround people saw in his abrupt capitulation to Howard Jarvis when the tax slash was voted in mid-1978. It will be taken by many as fresh evidence of inconstancy and opportunism.

The sense of political fickleness he conveys is perhaps Brown’s greatest liability. He is thought “a surfer on every popular wave,” shifting his interests as public whim shifts, veering to the current fad with an intuition as unerring as a heat-seeking missile on the hunt for its target. One of his closest supporters termed him “an eclectic pragmatist,” a portrait he bristled at, but those two words pop up often in the talk of his staff members.

Pollster Louis Harris, speaking in California last summer, said his interviewers picked up across the nation responses characterizing Brown as “opportunistic,” “superficial,” “unreliable,” “flaky,” and he followed up the report with his own estimate: “Brown is bombing out.”

A few days later, Brown’s presidential fund-raising machinery was set in motion. To such denigration, Jerry Brown’s response is a shrug. “Just a media fad. It’ll shift. People will come around. When they see me and hear me, things will be different.” Gray Davis calls it “surface noise.”

But more seriously, his close allies insist that there is consistency in what Jerry Brown has been saying over the past five years, and that it is only the juxtaposition of fiscal conservatism with his environmental and pro-minority priorities that baffles observers. “If you look at the record,” says Barbara Metzger, Brown’s press secretary at the state capitol, “you will find the same themes he is talking about now, tax cuts, anti-nuclear power, preserve the environment, open doors to minorities; it’s all there since he first ran for governor in 1974, and those who criticize him for switching haven’t taken the time to review the record.”

Brown’s venture into the presidential race might seem improbable were it not for two personal factors. One is his boundless confidence, the other his compulsive pursuit of ideas. A great measure of his attractiveness on the political scene is this frank commitment to the intellectual. He is, people who work with him say, “voracious” for ideas that have political relevance to the future; his backstage political life is a frenetic whirl of outreach to new people, midnight brainstorming with resource experts, soaking up details of some energy technology, astonishing experts by his quick comprehension and remarkable memory.

His office is evidence of this tumultuous searching, books chaotically piled, spilling across table surfaces even onto the floor, bright best-seller covers, paperbacks, and pamphlets the most vivid presence in the room. But the books deal mainly with three subjects: energy, economics, and environment. Those interests have consistently been woven through all his remarks back to 1974, as he called for reducing government, saving the forests, the whales, the oceans, the soil, exploring renewable, nonthreatening energy sources. But the kaleidoscopic range in his attention overwhelms any sense of cohesion. He does at least defy the stereotype of politicians, with his references to Camus, John Maynard Keynes, Jacques Cousteau, and Milton Friedman interwoven with allusions to Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, and all are sources he has absorbed, not quotations dotted through the pages of a speech.

“My mind has a wide range,” he once explained, “and that troubles a lot of people. I have a variety of intellectual and political resources. I believe in the politics of inclusion, not exclusion. I can put a Verne Orr [Governor Ronald Reagan’s finance director] on the university board of regents on one hand, and on the other Tom Hayden [the former student activist who now heads the California Campaign for Economic Democracy] on Solar-Cal [the state council for solar energy]. I believe in mobilizing the positive energies from a wide range and that’s what I’m trying to do . . . but to some people my various thoughts seem incompatible with each other.

“For instance, some think the ecology movement is a revolt against technology, but the photovoltaic cell represents advanced technology and is completely compatible with the environment. I am trying to carve out a reasonable path and I think the balancing approach is just that.”

As a matter of fact, Brown can dwell at length on the virtues of the “canoe theory” of political leadership (“You paddle a little on the left side, then you paddle on the right side”). This struck the public as a hilarious witticism. He offers it now quite seriously, embarking on a discussion of positive and negative electrical impulses, the pull-and-resist tensions in human relationships.

Brown exudes confidence, and the 1,350,000 margin by which he was reelected governor last November has not diminished it, though experience has smoothed some edges from the early sophomoric brashness. Undertaking the presidential contest now, he draws confidence, too, from knowing that, despite a tardy entry, he bested Carter in five 1976 primaries—Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Nevada, and California.

Some see Brown’s confidence as arrogance, especially when he launches into public rebuke of university professors, judges, lawyers, or doctors as overpaid and underdedicated to their tasks. But his personal certitude gives a kind of jaunty self-possession to his venture into the national contest.

What is remarkable about the Californian’s bid is the degree to which it rests on the candidate alone. Personality politics has long been the California style: adherents cultivated around the individual rather than the party, money centered on the candidate and rarely shared, campaigns more and more the creation of media specialists. In this solitary fashion, Brown sets forth.

He has, of course, a campaign staff, a close-knit retinue. Tom Quinn, a tenacious, firm-handed former head of the State Air Resources Board, whose puckish, cheery manner masks a shrewd political talent, directs campaign and media strategy. Richard Maullin, a former head of the State Energy Commission and one-time Rand Corporation analyst, is a whiz at fund-raising. Two of the closest advisers stay behind to keep California operating. Gray Davis is low-key, modest in manner, but the balance wheel in a wildly unsystematic administration, and Anthony Kline is legal affairs secretary and Brown’s best nay-sayer.

Newest in the crew is Richard Silberman, millionaire San Diego businessman and banker whose fortune, built on Jack-in-the-Box eateries, is ample enough to allow him an excursion into politics. He has been close to the Governor of late, as newly named finance director, but, like the other two, is released from state pay for the campaign chore. Silberman is credited with building Brown’s bridges to business. He is also blamed for the only known indiscretions in Brown fund-raising, having tapped some questionable Nevada and San Diego sources last year. This mistake was hastily disavowed, but cost Brown a severe roasting by cartoonist Garry Trudeau. Jacques Barzaghi, French-born art guide, philosopher, father of five, is somewhat a mystery figure as Brown’s closest shadow, tending to details of schedule, attire, and travel arrangements, and is thought to have a role in shaping Brown’s unconventional political style. Two industrious fund-raisers with origins in the East and wide contacts are Jeremiah Hallisey and Tony Dougherty, both San Francisco attorneys.

Beyond these, the number who influence Brown’s ideas range from Stanford economist Michael Boskin to Hollywood singer Helen Reddy and Jane Fonda. Brown chose the opening of Fonda’s film The China Syndrome to announce her appointment to the state Arts Council. Many months later the California senate rejected the appointment, recalling her anti-Vietnam role and visits to Hanoi. Brown excoriated this move as “small-minded,” setting off some explosive ill will among state capital Democrats. Questions have also been raised about Fonda’s husband, Tom Hayden, whom Brown put on a U.S.-Mexican immigration study panel as well as on Solar-Cal. Such alliances puzzle those who are attuned to Brown’s fiscal conservatism.

Brown also gets immersed in money raising and is notably effective, invariably raising more and spending more than Republican rivals. The need is for television, buying time for the thirtysecond spots and getting access to the news by constant travel into different TV market areas. Brown pulled nearly $4 million into his California re-election drive. His national goal is $12 million, the first step being to get contributions in twenty states so as to qualify for federal matching funds. Beyond individual donations, the California governor is a master at persuading Hollywood entertainers to stage benefits.

One problem dogging his heels may hinder fund-raising in California. Democrats are demurring at helping their chief executive on the campaign trail, thereby turning the state over to the Republican lieutenant governor, Mike Curb. The lieutenant governor is sure to be an embarrassment in months ahead, as he has been in the past when Brown’s absence from the state endowed him with largely undefined powers.

The whole drive, resting so singularly on Brown’s slim shoulders, is in marked contrast to the array of forces President Carter enjoys as an incumbent and the restless throngs straining to rush into Senator Kennedy’s campaign. It is difficult to identify any real constituency for the Californian. He has few friends among the Democratic party powerful. Richard O’Neill, party chief in California, is skeptical that Brown’s TV “blitz” style is suited to much of the nation. “He can try like McGovern did, but I don’t think it’ll work. Like everything else Jerry does, it’s hard to say how long a life this campaign will have.”

Brown does not flinch at comparison with Senator Kennedy. He is realistic, though, about the Kennedy popularity. He demonstrated that last year, enlisting the Kennedy name on behalf of his own re-election. He obtained the Senator’s permission to use it on a “get out the vote” plea and flooded Chicano and black neighborhoods with the exhortation to turn out and vote—signed by Senator Ted Kennedy.

Most Democratic leadership at home and elsewhere has been alienated by Brown’s single-minded concentration on his own political destiny, his scorn for structures erected by an earlier generation, and his impatience with formal hierarchies. Similarly, governors of other states are leery. He has never fit comfortably into their club. Democratic legislators as well as labor are outraged that Brown, to prove his cost-cutting, last year gave no cost-of-living increase to welfare workers. This year he tried to hold state employees’ raises down, but the legislature angrily overrode him.

Symbolic gestures to the poor continue. Governor Brown walked the last three miles with Cesar Chavez in a recent farm workers’ march. His elevation of minorities and women to responsible posts in government is remarkable. He hasn’t slashed all agencies: the Arts Council budget, for instance, jumped during this year of austerity from $1.4 million to $7.4 million. But he confounds ideological Democrats: he forgets the small farmer and woos corporate agricultural interests; he backs huge water development schemes that make a travesty of any “Small Is Beautiful” creed.

Until Brown proves his vote-getting strength, not many of the official faithful are likely to rally round. His reach is purposely directed beyond party, past platform positions, to touch the current concerns of nonpartisan voters. But his indifference to traditional Democratic precepts disturbs many.

What may stand Brown in good stead is single-issue politics. The sequence of his enthusiasms picks off a succession of constituencies: the young, environmentalists, the anti-nuclear set, those concerned with global questions of food supply, the ocean, the soil. He often invokes, for all its symbolic connotation of the future, the technological promise in space. He has identified a common thread of concern among environmentalists and fiscal conservatives, an inherently American wish not to exploit nature but to leave it alone, and in turn to push off intrusive government from the individual. In many of these causes, enthusiasts fault Brown for temporizing or for contradictory interests, but at the ballot, the Brown team thinks, he will hold their loyalty.

His most vocal antagonism comes from the leadership in professional, academic, business, and labor circles. The Establishment elite is generally distrustful of his flippancy and skeptical of his ability to follow through with substantial programs, though it grudgingly respects his mind, his boldness, and his survivorship. One top-level state official closely associated with the Governor said, “He is brilliant. But out of the last four and a half years, I’d say he has functioned as governor a total of about two. His attention roves . . .” Since January, and his open turn to national politics, this circle of antagonists has widened.

But he enjoys immensely enthusiastic and broad-based support outside Establishment ranks. Minorities and women have benefited from Brown’s appointments. It is said he appeases the liberals by those he puts into public office and the conservatives by his policies. His appointment record, in any case, is impressive: out of 3500 jobs filled he has named 1007 women, 341 persons of Hispanic name, 258 blacks, 128 Asian-Americans, 33 American Indians, and 18 Filipinos. These are not telephone operators and doormen. They are in high positions; his cabinet includes a black, a Mexican-American, three women. Eleven departments are headed by women. One experienced civil servant observed, “In overall ability, these appointees are fully comparable to the customary white male selection, but maybe a little more imaginative in their jobs.” The opening of such doors in state government has had an observable effect on the private sector. California has the best affirmative action record in the nation, Bakke’s case notwithstanding.

To those not yet aligned, the Governor must prove cohesion among his fluctuating proposals and a capacity for realization. In a campaign based on economic concerns, Brown would gain credibility because of California’s success during his years in office—its current business climate, healthy despite the recession, and its accommodation to severe governmental budget curtailment in the wake of Proposition 13. In California, the increase in new jobs in the past year has been substantially above that throughout the U.S., personal income growth is higher than the nation’s, the rise in corporate profits significantly greater. The only area of job shrinkage has been in public employment, down some 30,000 and still declining.

But if this record owes more to the state’s varied industries than to politics, Brown has made an impact in his support of renewable energy sources and in his drive for energy conservation. Both programs are miles ahead of those in other states. California last year achieved a drop in electricity and gas usage, for all its population spurt, of 2.4 percent; mass transit, even in the Los Angeles area, is rising, overall up 43 percent from a year ago, and auto mileage this summer decreased more than 10 percent. This was one of the first states with tax credits for householders adopting solar energy, the first with energy-efficiency standards for appliances, the first to require full insulation in new housing, the first to require lowered voltage to save utility power, the first to mandate special low rates for those using a minimum level of gas and electricity and high rates for the heating of swimming pools.

Only a year ago, Brown’s advocacy of windmills and wood-chip energy drew smiles, but today a California factory is using walnut shells to fuel its operation and Southern California Edison is building a million-dollar windmill at a desert pass and joining with Israeli specialists to experiment with “solar pond” energy at the Salton Sea. Under construction in Sacramento is a new state building whose architecture revolutionizes the use of solar energy and natural cooling.

Brown’s scouts, back from initial forays in eastern and midwestern states, report far deeper financial gloom and economic foreboding elsewhere than permeates California. Mounting a presidential campaign from the Pacific rim, long considered absurdly remote from the centers of decision-making, corporate power, and campaign money, may be advantageous in 1980, against the upbeat background of western business and expanding trade with the Orient. Of course inflation has visited the Pacific states, too, and projections for 1980 personal and corporate income are being scaled back, but they are still ahead of national projections. From a robust California, talk of restoring vigor to American industry carries with it a certain contagious frontier optimism.