KCBS reporter Doug Sovern almost literally ran into gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown while on a jog in Oakland earlier this week, and the chance encounter gives people a glimpse of why Brown earned the sobriquet “Governor Moonbeam” in his previous two terms from 27 years ago. Sovern asked Brown about Meg Whitman’s campaign to best him for his old job, and Brown engaged in a bizarre, hypocritical rant that wound up with Brown comparing Whitman to Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels:
I asked him if he intended to debate Meg Whitman, once she locked up the Republican nomination for governor (which she did Tuesday night, trouncing Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner). He said he’d like to have “many” debates with her – and indeed, he has since formally challenged Whitman to a series of ten town hall-style debates (Whitman dismissed his challenge as “playing political games” and said Brown should lay out some detailed policies so they’ll have something to debate).
I asked him how he could possibly compete with her vast campaign treasury – Whitman spent $71 million of her own money on the primary, and is ready to write checks for $80 million more to crush Brown. She also raised about ten million from donors, and there will be more where that came from, from supporters and from the Republican Party.
Brown boasted about his legendary frugality. “I’ve only spent $200,000 so far. I have 20 million in the bank. I’m saving up for her.” It’s true – his stay-on-the-sidelines, bare-bones primary run cost him almost nothing, at least in California political terms. But he also fretted about the impact of all those eBay dollars in Whitman’s very deep pockets. “You know, by the time she’s done with me, two months from now, I’ll be a child-molesting…” He let the line trail off. “She’ll have people believing whatever she wants about me.” Then he went off on a riff I didn’t expect.
“It’s like Goebbels,” referring to Hitler’s notorious Minister of Propaganda. “Goebbels invented this kind of propaganda. He took control of the whole world. She wants to be president. That’s her ambition, the first woman president. That’s what this is all about.”
I pointed out that most politicians want to be president someday. Gavin Newsom, for example. “Sure, sure he does. But they can’t control it. Look at Barack Obama, he got in and it’s all out of his control. I wanted to be president. I ran for president three times, you know.”
Uh, yeah, we know. No kidding, Jer.
There’s almost too much to deconstruct out of this, but let’s give it a try. On one hand, Brown whines that Whitman’s big war chest will be used to make him look bad by accusing her of wanting to call him a child molester. In the very next breath, Brown says Whitman is like Goebbels, and accused her of wanting to take over the world. It didn’t take long for Brown to call his Republican candidate a Nazi — and for the strangest reasons ever.
And why is Whitman a Nazi? Because she may have ambitions to run for higher office. Brown himself concedes that he used his platform as California governor to make three runs at the White House, each more pathetic than the last. Did that make Brown a Nazi three times over? Is he the equivalent of Rudolf Hess? Of course not. People run for President because they have ambitions for the job, and until now, no one ever compared a candidate to Goebbels for having that ambition.
Let’s not forget that Brown has spent almost his entire adult life either holding or seeking political office. His first successful run for the job he’s seeking now came 36 years ago, and eight years after Ronald Reagan beat his father out of the same job. Brown has been California’s Attorney General and Mayor of Oakland. The only ambitions Brown has are political. What does that say about Brown, using his own standard as applied to Meg Whitman? Brown’s complaint about “they just can’t control” political ambitions sounds an awful lot like projection.
As for Brown’s “frugality,” his terms as Governor should put an end to that myth. The only reason Brown only needed to spend $200,000 in the primaries is because the Democrats pushed Newsom into running for Lieutenant Governor and Brown didn’t face any real competition. He’s running on nostalgia and name identification. That’s not an accomplishment; it’s a fortunate circumstance.
Yesterday, the Brown campaign tried to claim that Sovern took the comment out of context after the Whitman team blasted Brown for “mud-slinging.” They’re not denying Brown made the Nazi comparison, however, but I bet they’re going to try to get their candidate to do his jogging on indoor tracks from now on.