Be Prepared

Over at the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Steven T. Jones raised questions about a Jerry Brown speech delivered to a crowd of Democrats and environmental activists on Wednesday night. Calling the speech “rambling,” Jones painted a picture of a candidate that was so unprepared that he raised concerns among Democrats:

The rambling, alternately vague and academic, and often pointless address did little to inspire or excite a large, sympathetic crowd that was loaded with top Democrats. In fact, some party luminaries were openly aghast at the poor performance, with one making this succinct (if off-the-record) assessment: “We’re fucked.”…

Brown started his speech by telling the crowd that he didn’t know what he was going to talk about, so when he arrived (late) for the speech, he asked San Francisco Democratic Party chair Aaron Peskin what he should say, and Peskin told him to talk about how there were more salmon in the streams and better overall environmental health back when Brown was governor in the ’70s.

But rather than taking that advice and giving a forceful call to strength environmental regulation or conjure up California’s better days, Brown meandered around and mused on that and other topics, feeding fears that the 71-year-old candidate might come off as a nostalgic, slightly senile former-Governor Moonbeam rather than an effective agent of needed change.

Not everyone in attendance shared Jones’s review of the speech. Raven Brooks, executive director of Netroots Nation, offered this take on the speech to Calitics:

The crowd was in general responding positively to both the content of his speech and all his mannerisms — everything from continuing to be coy about running to not knowing what he was going to talk about, etc. People he speaks to like that schtick which is part of his problem IMO, he thinks that’s the electorate and it isn’t. The average age in that room was definitely north of 65. This wasn’t like a fundraiser I’ve seen Obama speak at where everyone is jumping out of their seats giving him a standing ovation, but Jones isn’t accurately depicting the crowd’s reaction to Brown.

With that in mind, I get a somewhat different take than Jones on the speech. It’s not that Brown came off as “nostalgic, slightly senile” – instead he simply seemed unprepared. Showing up and not knowing what the hell you’re going to talk about shows that not only did he not prepare a speech, but that he and his campaign had given no thought whatsoever to the talking points and messaging they wanted to deliver.

If he’s talking to the state’s leading enviros, he should be letting them know the terms on which the campaign would be fought, especially when Whitman has given us ample ammunition to paint her as a global warming-denying wackjob with her desire to suspend AB 32. I’ve seen Brown give good, red-meat speeches before, such as at the 2008 CDP Convention in San Jose. But he needs to use these opportunities to communicate his core campaign narratives, instead of giving an unfocused if generally popular talk.

Most people hope that while Brown waits to declare his candidacy, he’s sitting with his inner circle in the Oakland loft planning out a thorough campaign strategy that includes everything from messaging to field to online. Episodes like this merely reinforce the concern that they haven’t started, and that he might actually run a Martha Coakley-style campaign.

Keep in mind how Brown won re-election in 1978, a year that in California generally favored conservative Republicans. Brown’s opponent, Republican Attorney General Evelle Younger, took a few weeks off after the June primary. Brown didn’t, and was able to define himself to the electorate and set the terms of the campaign in a way that was favorable to him. By the time Younger finally got engaged in the election campaign, he was behind in the polls and wound up losing by 20 points.

The 2010 race won’t be the same, of course – Brown won’t have the advantage of incumbency and he certainly won’t have more money than Whitman. But the basic concept is the same: candidates who wait to enter the race and launch their campaign have a greater hill to climb than is necessary.

Let’s hope Brown is taking this much time to launch his campaign for governor because he and his team are laying out a methodical campaign plan that can motivate progressives and turn out the casual voters who gave Obama a landslide victory here in 2008. In short, let’s hope he is prepared.

4 thoughts on “Be Prepared”

  1. I would disagree with two points Raven made in countering my story in the Bay Guardian. I think the average age was well under 65 and the crowd was not receptive to the speech. That was my initial impression, and it was confirmed the next day as I listened to a recording I made of the speech, in which I counted just two episodes of applause (and silence during what could have been decent applause lines) and two or three times when the audience laughed at something he said (one of those times when he didn’t seem to be trying to be funny). But I do agree with her basic point that Brown doesn’t read his audiences well and seems to think that he’s far more charming than he really is. That’s a problem, perhaps a fatal one. And while those of us at the Guardian and Netroots Nation are certainly routing for Brown over Whitman, this is a time when we need to try to remove our ideological blinders and narrative hopes and see the candidates for what they are. Because it’s not too late, either for Brown to get a wake-up call or — if he’s averse to that — for someone else to jump in.

    – Steven T. Jones

Comments are closed.