With Hillary Clinton reeling from a major ethics scandal, true-blue Democrats are looking for alternatives to their party’s presumptive presidential nominee. The bench is rather weak. There’s Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor who couldn’t build an Obamacare exchange and provoked a Republican sweep. There’s Elizabeth Warren, the fake Indian and genuine real estate speculator who has learned to parrot the “progressive” talking points. And then there’s Jerry Brown.
Yes, Jerry Brown, 77 years young. That sounds too old to run for president–until one considers the age of the Democratic field as a whole. The inestimable Tom Bevan of RealClearPolitics has created an infographic showing the ages of each party’s potential candidates. All of the Democrats, save O’Malley, are older than all of the Republicans. The GOP field is, on average, 54.9 years old, while the Democrats average 66.7 years old. If he ran, Brown would be the oldest–but not by much.
More important, Jerry Brown has the one thing that none of the other Democrats have: a record of achievement. Sure, he only balanced California’s budget thanks to some clever accounting. Sure, California’s much-heralded Obamacare program turns out to be a façade. Sure, California is plagued by poverty and the third-worst unemployment in the United States.
Here are the salient facts: Jerry Brown inherited a budget disaster from a Republican governor and turned deficits into surplus. He presides over an economic turnaround that has not only benefited the Silicon Valley elite but has also reached the exurbs where the housing crash hit hardest. He has shown leadership in the face of a crippling drought, ordering water restrictions and standing up for the state’s agricultural communities. Name one Democrat who has done anything like that.
Objectively, of course, California is still in deep trouble. As Joel Kotkin has written, the state’s future is all but lost, thanks to an environmental agenda that punishes the automobile, the single-family home, the farm and the small entrepreneur. In Kotkin’s words, “the great American land of opportunity is devolving into something that resembles feudalism, a society dominated by rich and poor, with little opportunity for upward mobility for the state’s middle- and working classes.”Jerry Brown’s high-speed rail obsession is a typical example of the kind of wasteful utopianism that is crippling the state. And he has barely begun to grapple with the state’s unfunded pension liabilities or its tyrannical public sector union leadership.
For all of that, Jerry Brown still towers over his Democratic peers. He is in his fourth term as governor, and made his money outside of public life. He has something of a patrician air–not the nouveau-riche grasping of the Clintons and their tacky, corrupt coterie, but a hereditary connection to California’s founders and its political elite. He is a dreamer, but has lectured fellow Democrats about spending, and has resisted some of the worst left-wing ideas, such as banning fracking.
He is a curmudgeon, but has earned the right to be. Democrats are desperate to connect to a new generation of leaders, but they simply aren’t there, and won’t be for a while. The empty sloganeering of Elizabeth Warren, the contrived populism of O’Malley, and the celebrity flash of a Julian Castro are all acts that have already worn thin.
Jerry Brown connects his party to their authentic roots–not just the dreamy 1960s, but also New Deal statism and Wilsonian progressivism. He is not afraid to take the fight to Republicans on issues that matter–not puerile “shiny object” stuff, but policies and ideas.
The question is whether Brown has the will to take on the Clintons. The spectacle of their struggles must, at some level, be gratifying to him. Tellingly, he declined to endorse Hillary last week. However, the window is closing.
Now or never, Jerry.