Saturday, December 11, 2010

Brown and Whitman Face-Off: Many Differences, Few Surprises

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post. 
In the smack down between Mega-Meg Whitman and Downtown Oakland Jerry Brown, the candidates gave us few surprises, but drew starkly different pictures of how they would govern the Golden State.
This was a classic standoff between a populist public official and a successful businesswoman. While Brown spoke about kids and teachers, Whitman decried the benefits of tax cuts and the need to create jobs.
Whitman was calm, smooth, articulate and formal. Brown was folksy, and even a bit bumbling at times. We can perhaps see these two, in another life, as the unfailingly organized schoolmarm (Whitman) and the rebel rousing student (Brown).
Whitman, standing solid as a tree trunk, stayed close to her message, stressing her goals of creating jobs, reforming welfare and the pension system, and cutting taxes. Brown, many times swaying from side to side, used humor to deflect his advancing aged, swore twice, joshed about old drinking days in Sacramento, and emphasized his past experience.
Whitman has argued that since she knows how to create jobs in the private sector, she can do the same in the public sector. At one point, she told the audience that she comes from the "real world," where you get things done. The implication of course being that Brown was born and bred in the public sector, where officials do nothing but bicker and stagnate. She has long presented herself as the business person's candidate, who has the business acumen to turn this dysfunctional state around.
Brown positioned himself as the old warrior -- stronger for the battles he has fought at every level of government and ready to take on the biggest task yet: leading California back from the brink. Over and over again, Brown stressed the difficulties of the job and tried to make the case that only he was up to the task.
Whitman, repeatedly using the Einstein quote that "[t]he definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results," tried to not-so-subtly convince the voter that it would be nothing short of ludicrous to once again send Brown to the governor's office in hopes of a better or different result. Brown, in comparison, consistently told the crowd that he's tough enough to make the hard decisions, that he's been there and knows what needs to be done.
Each candidate tried to convince the voters that the other opponent would be in the pocket of special interests. Whitman said that putting Brown in charge of California, specifically labor union negotiations, would be like putting Count Dracula in charge of the blood bank. Whitman again and again hammered Brown on his ties to unions. Whitman also tried to turn her massive self-funding into an advantage, saying she is indebted to no one.
Brown, on the other hand, said he's stood up to labor unions and that it is Whitman who wants to pay back her friends -- the rich -- with a capital gains tax cut. Brown said he wants to fund education, not billionaires.
Love them or hate them, these candidates are very different. Sadly, perhaps their only area of agreement is that California is in a bind. Let's hope one of them can help.

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