Jerry Brown: Out in a left field of dreams On Politics Today

Jack W. Germond & Jules Witcover

September 26, 1991|By Jack W. Germond & Jules Witcover

Washington -- FORMER Gov. Jerry Brown of California, addressing the Democratic National Committee meeting here last weekend, concluded his speech with the memorable line from the hit movie fantasy "Field of Dreams," about a baseball fan who builds a diamond in an Iowa cornfield that attracts a

host of great returning from the Great Ballpark in the sky.

"If we build it," Brown said, "they'll come."

What he was referring to on this occasion, however, was an electoral process free of domination by money and special interests that can resurrect voter confidence in American politics and, in the next presidential election, bring out the one half of all eligible voters who boycott the ballot box.

pTC With all the fervor of a repentant sinner striving to lift the scales from other sinners' eyes, Brown cast his prospective third try for the Democratic presidential nomination in terms of a righteous crusade.

"It's not just another candidacy," he intoned, "but a candidacy held aloft by people," and he prophesied they would join his cause, first by the tens, then the hundreds, then the millions, to purify the process.

"We've got to redeem this country, we have to redeem ourselves," Brown preached, as an audience that had scarcely quieted down from the fiery, red-meat oratory of old-fashioned liberal Sen. Tom Harkin sat in an apparent mixture of puzzlement and embarrassment.

At the outset, Brown had warned his audience of establishment Democratic politicians that they were going to hear some things they wouldn't like, and he didn't disappoint them.

He owned up that he had raised $18 million dollars himself in his previous campaigns, in what he called the "vortex of corruption" into which American politics has been sucked. But as proof that he has seen the light he repeated his pledge not to accept political action committee money and to limit contributions to his campaign to $100 per giver.

As Brown warmed to his subject in the fashion of a born-again fundamentalist, he went so far as telling his fellow Democrats, in effect, that they were no different or better than the Republicans.

"In reality," he said, "there is only one party -- the incumbent party," protecting its entrenched position.

Brown cited the recent congressional pay raises as Exhibit A, noting that the leadership of both parties agreed not to attack legislators who voted to raise their salaries.

As a formula for winning the Democratic nomination, this surely is one of the strangest to come down the pike in years. But Jerry Brown has been wandering in the desert of political purgatory for nearly a decade now, since leaving the governorship.

He has lost one race for the Senate and has just abandoned a second bid in favor of "exploring" a third presidential candidacy. He won't talk to reporters about why, but longtime friends say he knows he can't be elected in California again and his interest is in national affairs, so why not spend his time addressing matters that really engage him?

In doing so, however, he is beginning to sound as if he is more interested in delivering a message than in winning. At one point, he told the DNC that "until we're willing to lose in defense of (our) principles, we don't deserve to win." And he told the Democratic state chairmen: "I want to create a candidacy that other people can be a part of . . . I want to create a cause . . . We're not going to succeed just by having a (Democratic) president. We had a president a few years ago." And using a football analogy: "Maybe you only go 10 yards. Someone else picks it up and goes another 10 yards."

Jerry Brown has always been an outsider in his own party, first as a governor who talked about the global village, about a government of limits and a series of ethereal concepts that won him the nickname Governor Moonbeam. Then for two years he was a state chairman, suddenly finding new energy and joy in the challenges of nuts-and-bolts politics he had eschewed in earlier years.

Now, having seen the corrupting influences of filthy lucre and special-interest pleaders from the perspective of candidate, officeholder and party functionary, he is embarked on spreading his warning of political perdition in the context of another presidential campaign. It's hard not to conclude that Jerry Brown is alive and well, and living in his own field of dreams.

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