Presidential Long Shot Hall of Fame: Jerry Brown

January 17, 2007

jerrybrown.jpgUnlike many of the other members of the Hall, Edmund Gerald “Jerry” Brown was a long shot of his own making. Elected governor of California in 1974 (replacing the outgoing Ronald Reagan), Brown was known for his eclectic and eccentric policies. After proposing to have the state launch a communications satellite, Brown was tagged by Chicago columnist and professional everyman Mike Royko as “Governor Moonbeam,” a name that has stuck ever since. While often ridiculed, (Brown is the subject of the Dead Kennedys’ “California Uber Alles” after all), history has largely vindicated his policy choices. Even so, for most of the 1970’s, Brown was an exceptionally popular, intelligent, and charismatic governor of a very large state. By all accounts, he should not only been a very serious contender for the presidency, but the odds on favorite.

So what does Jerry Brown do? He runs in 1976, but doesn’t actually run in a primary until May that year, missing important early contests. Maybe he thought he was too strong and needed to handicap himself to be a good sport. While that may have been chivalrous, it was also incredibly stupid. By the time Brown really got into the race, another governor by the name of Jimmy Carter was already too well established.

Undeterred by his loss, Brown decides to make another unspectacular run… in 1980, despite the fact that there was a sitting incumbent president of his own party. Generally speaking, a primary challenge against an incumbent president is one of the dumber things you can do as a candidate. To be fair, however, Carter did look very weak (until the hostage crisis gave him a big boost) and how was Brown to know that Ted Kennedy was going to make his muddled play.

Rather than do the smart thing and run for reelection as governor and make another bid in 1984 (when he would probably be the front runner), Brown made a failed bid for the senate. After losing that race, Brown disappeared for the remainder of the Reagan administration, choosing to spend his time in Asia.

Were this the end of Brown’s presidential career, he would have the political equivalent of Harold Baines’s credentials; respectable, but not worthy of the hall of fame. Luckily, Brown made one more run for president in 1992, long past his national prime. He started out by running primarily on a campaign-finance reform platform. Pledging to refuse any contributions over $100, Brown’s campaign was severely hamstrung by lack of cash until he set up his innovative 1-800 number. To make things harder, Brown just had to try and win the Democratic nomination while hocking a tax plan written for him by, no joke, Arthur Laffer. That’s right, the Arthur Laffer of Reaganomics fame. In 1992, Brown ran while supporting a flat tax and value added tax (VAT), the very same tax policies enthusiastically supported by fellow-HoFer Alan Keyes.

Despite these decisions (or perhaps because of), Brown somehow actually turned out to be a credible opponent to Bill Clinton in the primaries, winning a few states. Brown’s say-anything self-destructive nature won out in the end, though. With the New York primary shaping up as a decisive contest, Brown mentioned to a Jewish audience that he would consider picking Jesse “Hymietown” Jackson to be his running mate. He might as well have said he was considering David Duke to be his VP.

Needless to say, Brown went on to lose New York by a wide margin, effectively ending his campaign. While Brown may have lost of each of his presidential bids, he has won our hearts–and our votes to be enshrined in the Presidential Long Shot Hall of Fame. Who needs the White House when you’ve won internet accolades like that?

Thanks for the memories, Jerry.

5 Responses to “Presidential Long Shot Hall of Fame: Jerry Brown”

  1. Jerry Brown Says:

    Two more chapters in the story:

    Mayor of Oakland (1999–2006)

    Attorney General of California (2007–)

  2. Herbesse Says:

    Will this make my Bill Clinton stocks on trendio rise?

  3. […] — dailysalad @ 10:43 pm could jerry brown be the mysterious commenter known as “jerry brown“? although in all likelihood the answer is “no,” there is some good […]

  4. lpmandrake Says:

    Jerry: (may I call you Jerry?)

    I’m aware of your post-1992 political story and applaud your efforts to stay involved. The reason I omitted it from the above post is that virtually any reference to recent California politics (that does not involve Gary Coleman) saddens my heart. Jer (may I call you Jer?), why did you not run to reclaim the governor’s mansion you sold? Surely you could have beaten Arnold this past cycle. Even better, you could have beaten Steve Westly (again) in the Democratic primary. Now you’ll have to take down Villaraigosa in 2010–a steeper challenge if you ask me.

  5. […] narrative. Whether they’re authors (W.D. Howells, W. Somerset Maugham), politicians (Taft, Jerry Brown), directors (Peter Bogdanovich), bands (Kool Keith), or countries (Estonia), too many of the […]

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