The LA Times posited a fascinating question a few days ago in regards to the prep work Meg Whitman's team did before officially launching her campaign: When is a Campaign a Campaign? In that article author Michael Rothfeld was interested in the money team Whitman spent before announcing her candidacy and whether those expenditures should be reported according to law. However, I am not as interested in Rothfield's article as much as I am in his headline.
Actually, I should be a little clearer on this point. I am really interested in: When is a campaign not a Campaign. The reason the headline interests me is my ongoing ambivalence with Jerry Brown and whether a brand name and a website constitute an actual campaign.
I went to his site earlier today to see if he supported AB32 and the green economy it is designed to create in California. I knew Whitman is against it, but I wasn't sure of Brown's stance. Apparently neither is he.
Brown's website is aesthetically pleasing, reminiscent of a Shepard Fairey print, which I assume is no coincidence considering the proliferation of Fairey's Obama prints. The site contains good graphics, hosts both an 'About' page and a 'Bio' page for Brown and a nice slogan: Let's Get California Working Again. What's noticeably absent from the site is how Brown suggests we get California working again and anything resembling his platform specifics. His campaign website puts a lot of effort into telling us what he has done but almost nothing in terms of what he will do. It is little more than a name and a slogan. That's a tad more than a wing and a prayer but slightly less than a bushel and a peck.
Brown is running on the Brown brand and he very well could carry the day with just that, but should Democrats, progressives, liberals and all those who fall under the designation 'Left' be concerned? Back in November, five months before Brown officially announced his candidacy, Robert Crucikshank wrote an article for Calitics, The Case for a Contested Democratic Primary, in which he stated:
Jerry Brown's current poll lead rests on two factors: name recognition and a belief among some Democrats that Brown is a truly progressive politician...Brown was never as progressive as many Democrats assume. During his two terms as governor in the 1970s and early 1980s he often gave liberals fits by his inconsistent support for their causes.
Brown has the name recognition and he is assuming that progressives will fall in line based on the recollection of him being progressive. However, as Cruickshank goes on to point out:
It would be one thing if today's Jerry Brown were more progressive on these matters. Unfortunately, he continues to believe that to get elected, he must espouse conservative ideas on the state's financial and economic crisis. He continues to claim taxes and regulation hurt business and has proposed further tax cuts. He has staunchly opposed drug policy reform and sentencing reform and joined Arnold Schwarzenegger in suing to stop the federal government from exercising oversight over our prisons. Instead of calling for eliminating the 2/3rds rule that empowers right-wingers, he positions himself as a centrist and argues both right and left are wrong.
Again, this was back in November of 2009. With Brown being the presumed candidate and no one stepping up to challenge him, one would think he would take a moment to clarify his positions and reassure his liberal base that he represents their interests. One would think wrong. Let's fast forward from November 2009 to January 2010. Cruickshank once again is taking Brown to task, this time for his apparent non-campaign, which he likens to Martha Coakley in Massachusetts:
Jerry Brown seems to be doing all he can do to become the next Martha Coakley. Like the Massachusetts Attorney General, California's Attorney General seems to believe he doesn't yet have to run an actual campaign.
However, to be fair to Jerry, he did not officially launch his campaign until March, two months after this article was written. Surely at that point Brown would get off his laurels and tell people why they should vote for him in 2010, right?
Imagine my surprise when today I go to Brown's website to look at his positions and I see what basically amounts to a personal vanity site. The About, Bio, Fighting for You and even his Press pages are all about what Jerry has done and are even somewhat redundant in glorifying his past triumphs. The glaring lack of a plan for California and his gubernatorial ambitions is startling. How will he address California's budget woes? Will he raise taxes? Will he support AB32? How does he feel about single payer health care? What about our once topnotch education system in California - how will he save that? As a progressive myself, I would like to know everything from his take on Prop 13 to the prospect of legalizing and taxing marijuana and yet he gives me nothing but a resume.
I have heard anecdotal evidence bandied about in which 'those in the know' were present when he said this or voiced support for that but such evidence is mostly apocryphal at this point. I used my twitter account, brianabbey, to toss out into the aether a question of Brown's support for AB32 and was told by another apparently in the know: His campaign says he is waiting to see if the initiative qualifies. Stay tuned.
By the looks of things, his campaign is waiting on a lot and we are all to stay tuned...and wait. From a Brown perspective, I get it. Sit back and let Poizner and Whitman duke it out and say very little. Such a strategy serves Brown well, but how does it serve California, and more specifically Democrats? Wouldn't it help the party and strengthen our likely to candidate to at least have a conversation on the left about what he's going to do? His debate challenge to his GOP rivals notwithstanding, he has made no attempt to show his hand. It might seem especially important to give the people something considering Cruickshank's assertion that Brown's record isn't all that progressive. But then again, this is politics and the end game is to win.
So stay tuned California and for now behold the incredible, the invisible campaign of Jerry Brown!