Magazine article The American Conservative

California Times Two

Magazine article The American Conservative

California Times Two

Article excerpt


These days I care more about the results of local sporting events than I do national or out-of-state elections, but I was pleased that Golden Staters put Jerry Brown back in the governor's chair.

Brown's austere unhipness has always appealed to me, despite the soporiferous Linda Ronstadt, despite his "explore the universe" vapors, despite his failure as attorney general to defend his state's electorate in the Proposition 8 case, even despite the Dead Kennedys' "California Uber Alles," in which President Brown unleashes the Terror:

   Now it is 1984
   Knock knock at your front door
   It's the suede denim secret police
   They have come for your uncool niece!

Jello Biafra, who yawped that lyric, changed his mind about Brown, as did the great Chicago columnist Mike Royko, who dubbed Brown "Governor Moonbeam" but later realized that the Californian's eccentricities masked--or maybe revealed--a curious, undogmatic, and bold politician.

To me, the California governor is redolent of those politically halcyon mid1970s, when Democratic primaries were dominated by pious peanut farmers, pro-Second Amendment exposers of CIA skullduggery (Frank Church), and the quicksilver Brown, while neocon dreadnoughts like the SS Scoop Jackson sunk blessedly of their own terrible weight.

Jerry Brown was the last populist to make himself heard in a Democratic presidential primary, when in 1992, advised by the wise old republican Gore Vidal, he thumped the tub for a flat tax and peace and against NAFTA. Later, as mayor of Oakland, Brown encouraged local poets and painters and dancers to render their city in all its peculiar glory.

He was ridiculed for such pronouncements as this: "I want to emphasize place. Re-inhabit, going back, learning what was before, what is, what isn't, what could be because of its physical location, its place in the economy, its fauna, its flora, its racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity." A syntactic smashup, perhaps, but what's so funny about Brown's meaning?

Jerry's dad Pat Brown was a boring New Deal Democrat whose lone service to the Republic was the temporary sidelining of Whittier's Dick Nixon in the 1962 California gubernatorial race, but we might hope that father taught son a lesson in division.

Disgusted by the Orange County troglodytes whom he blamed for electing Ronald Reagan governor over his incumbent self in 1966, Pat Brown unloaded on Southern California in his querulous book Reagan and Reality. …

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