Too old, white and washed up.
A septuagenarian retread, not an exciting new face.
His time has come and gone.
No, I’m not talking about Joe Biden. I’m talking about Jerry Brown. When Brown emerged as a candidate for California attorney general in 2005, on a glide path back to the governor’s office, people talked lots of trash.
Brown went up against Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo in the 2006 primary for state attorney general. Delgadillo, a tall and dashing Mexican-American football player who attended Harvard, looked like the future. He was “a rising star in the Democratic party,” according to the legendary Mayor Sam blog. Unbeatable, some said.
Brown crushed him by 26 points.
The negative refrain continued as Brown edged toward the 2010 gubernatorial race. A young and ultra-progressive San Francisco politician had become the Democrats’ new darling.
“We can’t afford to keep returning to the same old tired ideas and expect a different result,” he declared.
It was a clear shot at Brown, who wasn’t even in the race. The inspiring upstart spoke of new technologies, bold ideas and the power of the young to overthrow the old. He promised to “stop looking back and start looking for solutions.”
Yet Brown easily pushed Gavin Newsom out of the race before declaring his own candidacy. Polls had showed him beating Newsom by 20 points.
Brown then vanquished billionaire Meg Whitman’s $178.5 million juggernaut of a campaign and pulled California back from the brink of financial ruin. Gov. Newsom, who inherited Brown’s multibillion-dollar budget surpluses in January, can finally appreciate the advantage of waiting his turn.
Joe is no Jerry. He doesn’t speak Latin, and he’s failed to embrace male pattern baldness with Brown’s Zen-inspired zeal. Biden’s only run for president twice, while Brown failed thrice. Yet the current attacks on Biden’s front-running candidacy highlight parallels between the two.
Brown’s successful return to power vexed some liberals hungry for generational change, just as Biden’s early success frustrates the Democratic Party’s progressive base.
How can a crusty codger outshine the party’s bright new lights? Are sexism, racism and capitalism to blame for Biden’s surging polls? Sure. Yet, as Brown proved, some other political truths play a role:
▪ Age has benefits. “Politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough,” declared John Huston in “Chinatown.” Like Brown, Biden’s been around for decades. He’s a known quantity – connected and respected, a safe bet for donors, interest groups and voters alike. He’s imperfect, and occasionally inappropriate, but people know “Uncle Joe.” Familiarity translates into a valued trait for politicians: trustworthiness.
▪ A steady hand in a storm. When Brown ran for governor, California faced an apocalyptic budget crisis. He promised honesty and ability, not gleaming utopia. After years of Trumpian trauma, many Americans may simply want normalcy – to go through a day without the president threatening war or killing immigrant babies. Progressive wish lists are false promises unless Democrats take the Senate, which is unlikely. So, a hundred impossible promises may prove less powerful than one simple pledge: stability. Worked for Brown.
▪ He can win. Biden’s effortless dominance of the Democratic field – and his 13-point lead over Trump in the latest Quinnipiac poll – makes him attractive to voters who want a winner. Trump’s own internal polls show Biden beating him by a landslide in key battleground states. Why squander such advantage and risk everything on a less popular Democrat?
Anything can happen in 2020, but it’s Biden’s race to lose. He needs a dynamic running mate who excites progressives and represents the future. Many are vying for the slot. Maybe one of them will catch fire and overtake him, just as Barack Obama stunned Hillary Clinton in 2008.
Of course, Obama chose Biden as his VP, warts and all. If Biden’s the nominee, expect the ever-popular Obama to seal the deal as chief surrogate. Perhaps even Brown, always hesitant to endorse other politicians, will put down his plow and put his shoulder to the wheel.