Jerry Brown's new declaration of independence On Politics Today

Jack W. Germond & Jules Witcover

October 22, 1991|By Jack W. Germond & Jules Witcover

PHILADELPHIA, PA. — PRESIDENT BUSH isn't George III and the American political process is not British tyranny. But former Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown of California seized the obvious analogy in declaring his presidential candidacy here Monday outside historic Independence Hall.

Here where the colonies declared their independence 215 years ago, Brown didn't single out the incumbent Republican president by name. Rather, he declared political war on today's political process, arguing it has given rise to one "Incumbent Party" in Washington "of Republicans and Democrats alike."

Most of the other Democratic candidates for 1992 are running as outsiders against Bush and Washington, but Brown is going them one better by specifically including his own party as part of the problem.

Citing "an unholy alliance of private greed and corrupt politics," Brown charged that "our democracy has been the object of a hostile takeover engineered by a confederacy of corruption, careerism and campaign consultants. And money has been the lubricant greasing the deal."

Accompanying Brown to Philadelphia, however, was Patrick Caddell, prominent consultant to many past Democratic presidential candidates. Caddell said he has retired from politics and was here as a friend of the candidate, with no formal role in his campaign. Another veteran consultant, Mike Ford, said he will be serving as a volunteer.

In the square where the Declaration of Independence was read to Philadelphians in 1776, Brown reiterated his pledge to reject all political-action committee money and to limit contributions to $100. "The insatiable appetite for campaign dollars has turned the government into a stop-and-shop for every greedy and narrow interest in this country," he said.

The failure of Brown's two earlier campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination, in 1976 and 1980, and his loss in a 1982 Senate race have marked him as a distinct long shot for 1992. But he is seeking to tap into a discontent with politics and the establishment that is boiling over right now.

XTC "Bouncing checks, skipping out on restaurant tabs, and self-serving pay increases are manifestations of the insensitivity and contempt of entrenched politicians in Washington," he told the small crowd, referring to recent congressional excesses.

Caddell told reporters after the speech: "If you don't think the country is angry, look at Louisiana." He was referring to the success of for mer Ku Klux Klanner David Duke winning a spot in that state's gubernatorial runoff next month as a voice of discontent.

Although Brown is a well-established liberal with a solid record in support of civil rights, his approach to this campaign is reminiscent of the attacks on the establishment of George Wallace in his own presidential bids of 1964, 1968 and 1972. In fact, Brown has embraced some of Wallace's old slogans, including "Stand Up for America" and "Send Them a Message," though in an entirely non-racist context.

Part of Brown's problem in this third presidential bid will be living down his earlier reputation as a politician of flighty imagination and notions, earning in the process the politically unfortunate monicker "Governor Moonbeam." Perhaps alluding to that past, he said here: "I am only one person with faults and flaws. And in my 50 years (he is really 53) I have made many mistakes. But I commit to each of you that I will strive to my utmost to continually change within myself."

Brown's new war against money in politics itself represents a change. He raised nearly $20 million for his gubernatorial, presidential and senatorial campaigns and was an avid fund-raiser as California party chairman for two years after that. That, he says now, opened his eyes to the destructive impact of money on the political process.

Asked by a reporter later whether Brown was compromised in bringing this message to voters, Caddell replied: "Who better than someone who has been in it and confesses his sins in it, and who speaks to the anger of the country?"

Brown enters the race with the advantage of public recognition, but what voters know of him has not always been positive. In taking on the whole political process rather than Bush or his Democratic opponents, he is counting on public outrage at all politicians -- and on voters seeing him in a new light, not as part of the problem, but as part of the solution. It is a tall order.

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