So the candidate from Star Wars has withdrawn from the Democratic presidential race. What does one make of it? I have always thought of the Hon. Edmund G. Brown Jr. in much the same way that Gertrude Stein thought of Oakland, Calif., to wit: "There's no there there." Oh, admittedly, some things are there. According to Robert Pack's authoritative "Jerry Brown: The Philosopher Prince," there are dirty shirts, rumpled three-piece suits, the mattress on the floor and the 1974 Plymouth Satellite where the gubernatorial limousine might otherwise be.
There is the recrudescent Puritanian characteristic of so many of the bizarre activists of late 20th century America. Yet these Puritans have no roots, no strong affections; they have low-level hysteria where ideas ought to be. "Anyone who has time to shine his shoes isn't doing the important things in life," the boy governor once growled. Here is a 42-year-old bachelor. He has spend all of his years, save six or seven, either in school or at the public trough. He has no close associates who are not either entertainers or political fanatics of one magnitude or another. In him there is rigorism and bile and little else. On a sunny day, stand him next to any 20th century president other than Jimmy Carter and there would be only one shadow cast. Stand him next to Carter and there would be no shadow cast.
"The important things in life," judging from Brown's own life, are ceaseless lunges for headlines and political advancement. Thus, his days have been filled with trendy causes: the struggle against tobacco, the struggle for holistic medicine, the struggle against the hellish products of Detroit, enlightened California's campaign against the flush toilet, and now the crusade against nuclear energy -- "No Nukes Is Good Nukes," "Split Wood, Not Atoms." The level of debate does not put one in mind of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. t
Like Carter, Brown echoes with sermonica. Yet, in the flesh Brown is generally intense, remote, abrasive and sullen. If he has ever lapsed into moments of courtesy or small acts of personal kindness, I have gotten wind of them. One ought not to be too critical of him for this. Men like Brown are sustained by headlines, and the press rewards "complexity" and outrage.
Hence, the record is full of Me Decade gibberings, such as "I go from Whale Day to Space Day, from one issue to another. Life is a mosaic. Life is many themes. Life is many seasons. So is governorship. So is culture. So is history." In his early years, when European and American progressives still thought him a wow, Mussolini sounded a little like this -- though Musolini's effusions never contained Brown's telltale traces of hallucination. "I see the world in very fluid, contradictory, emerging, interconnected terms," Brown has declared, "and what that kind of circuitry I just don't feel the need to say what is going to happen or will not happen . . . It's the circuitry of semiconductors and computers and electronic interconnections, that's what's happening today." It is sad that in the end this media genius bowed out complaining that the media were treating him unseriously. Detractors had called him Snowflake. Is that not a crude stereotype?
Of course, no man with any dignity or serious political principle would utter such tosh. Had Brown any political principles would he, a lifelong liberal Democrat, have so easily adopted the Proposition 13 fever and thumped so violently for the balanced budget? As governor of California, he has dropped almost all of his pet enthusiasms as soon as they were endangered by a hostile legislature. He told voters that he intended to move to the Left and the Right simultaneously.
To soothe the Right he became a skin-flint. To soothe the Left he abused some middle-class pieties. One of the ineluctable lessons of the past 15 years is that, once one has outraged the middle-class with guff or a few rude gestures like flying around with a rock singer or lowering state flags for the Kent State Four, the Left's passion for "fundamental change" is generally satisfied. A threat to cut welfare spending generally quiets the Right's rhetoric about personal liberty.
These gestures amounted to the heart and soul of Brown's politics. Whether such a gaudily adorned empty vesel could ever have won a presidential election in 1980 will remain moot. Some will say his dismal showings in the 1980 primaries reveal the vox populi will not countenance such vacuity. tMy view is that his retirement was brought on by conditions beyond his control -- for instance, the rise of the zany Parson Anderson and the unanticipated candidacy of Teddy. In a different year, under different conditions, he might have been seen as a political genius. After all, is not the present tenant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue a man who also claims to embody both the Left and the Right? Restless ambition can bring one a long way in American politics today, which is more than can be said for political principle.