Jerry Brown’s baffling campaign and the do-nothing governor’s race

The California gubernatorial race has been a real snoozer so far, with little if anything to engage voters. Well, except for Brown bad-mouthing Bill Clinton because of that Whitman ad, that is. After a bit of a kerfuffle, Clinton is still endorsing Brown. But that’s a long ways from actively campaigning for him, which is probably what he was going to do until Brown went off the rails and attacked a potential ally.

Meg Whitman will spend upwards of $150 million of her own money in a bid to win while Jerry Brown is, well, what is Jerry Brown doing? (Besides attacking the wrong targets.) No one seems to know. Even presumed supporters like columnist Steve Lopez at the L.A. Times are baffled by Brown’s seeming inability to focus on issues and say something concrete instead of issuing more warm fuzzy statements with as much substance as cotton candy. One has to wonder, does Brown have ‘the fire in the belly’ for being governor? Or is he becoming a bit… aged… Because this campaign, unlike his previous ones, has been plodding, uninspired, and filled with gaffes.

Lopez was not impressed by a recent Brown press conference, billed as having a “significant announcement” which turned out to be for a new TV ad. The ad says the state must live within its means, return power to the local level, and that there will be no new taxes without voter approval. Future ads will claim a cure for cancer and the end of poverty. (Oh wait, that’s not coming after all, my bad.)

Look, California has a $19 billion deficit and it grows larger every month. The do-nothing legislature is deadlocked except for when they vote to adjourn so they can go home and forget about the whole mess temporarily. For Brown to state that California must live within its means without explaining how he plans to do this is misleading and unhelpful, at best. Or perhaps Brown is trying to live up to the “Governor Moonbeam” nickname given to him in 1976 by columnist Mike Royko. “Poof, I command the deficit to think Happy Thoughts and then magically disappear.” Further, saying there will be no new taxes without voter approval, given the foul mood of voters and wobbly economy, means there will be no new taxes, period. But since expenses for the state continues to rise as revenues fall, all the magical thinking in the world won’t balance the budget.

But wait, you say, eMeg is equally vague and noncommittal as to actual plans on how to balance the budget. Yes, she is, and personally, I’d like to have reasons to enthusiastically vote for Brown. But like Steve Lopez, I’m not finding many. He says Brown should ditch the cautious political playbook and instead get real and tell the truth about the state of the State. Because then he’ll give voters a real reason to get out of bed on Election Day.

What passes for political discourse in this country is too often meaningless pap from politicians who are basically cynical about the populace, viewing them as easy to manipulate and mostly uninterested in policy and probably a bit dim to boot. What other conclusions can be reached, especially considering this monumentally irrelevant governor’s race where the budget should be the central issue, but isn’t? Voters aren’t dumb, not at all. They know when they’re being lied to or ignored.

Somehow, we need to get a political process where the budget crisis, unfunded pension liabilities, and priorities for California are focal points for meaningful debate, then real solutions. Were Jerry Brown to embrace such an approach, he’d probably win easily. This may be his only real way to do so.