What does it say about these strange times that Gov. Jerry Brown, fresh off his star turn in Thursday’s State of the State address, is all the rage along the west side of … Manhattan?
Not Los Angeles’ west side, mind you, where many a Democratic salon is held and many a Democrat comes a-beggin’ for money, but the Upper West Side, an uber-liberal pocket of the biggest city in America’s second-biggest blue state.
Those “New York values” Democrats are obsessed with politics. Their pet conspiracy theory is that President Barack Obama so detests Hillary Clinton – and worries about her ability to win in November and preserve his agenda – that his Justice Department will indict her this spring on charges of breaching national security in the email scandal.
Exit a wounded Hillary, enter a prominent Democrat to rescue the party – none other than California’s governor.
Never miss a local story.
OK, let’s all take a deep breath – and a reality check.
First, who knows what legal fate awaits Clinton? It’d be better if Republicans stop fantasizing about the Democratic front-runner in handcuffs – and an orange pantsuit – and wake up to the train wreck that is a Donald Trump or Ted Cruz nomination.
As for the notion that Brown is the Democrats’ savior, the East Coast fantasy league isn’t paying attention to how the man does his job. It’s not always the stuff that makes liberal hearts race.
Just contrast Brown’s State of the State and President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address last week. Yes, Brown is still clinging to his expensive toys – high-speed rail, Delta water tunnels. And you won’t find a more vocal champion of climate-change action.
Otherwise, the governor is a disc brake – and a cold splash of water – for the progressive ideal that there are few societal woes than can’t be solved without government intervention and loads of money.
Two things we can safely predict for 2016: Democratic legislators won’t get to spend as much surplus revenue as they’d like. And Brown’s bill signings will come with at least one eyebrow-raiser along the lines of last year’s veto of Assembly Bill 47. Child care advocates loved the measure, but Brown ruled that setting a timetable for taxpayer-financed preschool for all low-income 4-year-olds was better left to future budget negotiations. That’s the opposite of Obama, who called for universal preschool and free community college.
In fairness to the two gentlemen, Obama is trying to insert himself into this presidential election. Brown has two years and two elections in which to intervene, so he can cherry-pick his way through the November ballot.
Brown has another advantage over Obama – an electorate that plays right into his wheelhouse. According to the most recent Hoover Institution Golden State Poll, Californians are most concerned about the state’s water problems, the economy and fiscal integrity. All three play into Brown’s persona as the Dean Wormer of the state Capitol’s “Animal House.”
There’s another reason to root for a Brown presidential run, however unlikely – authenticity. Setting aside the nitpicking over his speech, it was quintessentially Brown. It’s a stark contrast with Clinton’s debate performance on Sunday – tacking left in fear of Bernie Sanders’ insurgency and overdoing her admiration for the nation’s first black president at an event sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute.
Could Brown, unlike Clinton, run for president and remain his true self? How refreshing it would be if the frugal governor stood before primary voters and bluntly told them: “I want what you want, but we can’t afford it.”
Honesty in politics and truth in advertising? You heard it under the Capitol dome. We’re still waiting for it on the presidential trail.
Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.