The 1992 Democratic primary process seemed destined to offer voters not just mediocrity, but boredom as well, that is, until “Governor Moonbeam” flew in on his magic carpet, and we have not lacked for entertainment since. Jerry Brown has been described in the press as a charlatan, a political changeling, an opportunist, and a fake. Harsh indictments to be sure, and probably exaggerated since nobody could be all these things at the same time. Brown’s critics have countered that he requires only about 48 hours in order to cycle through each of these roles.
It is hard to place Brown in any traditional political category. To simply label him a liberal won’t suffice. That term is better suited to a Jackson, Dukakis, or Harkin. Brown is a political and spiritual eclectic, espousing far left environmental policies in the same breath as he pushes a flat tax policy which is more conservative that anything Ronald Reagan ever dared to propose. Of course, that isn’t such a difficult stretch after you’ve spent a few years attempting to integrate Buddhism and Christianity.
That’s not to say Brown is a closet conservative. He merely happens to stumble across some constructive ideas as a result of his stream of consciousness approach to politics. In fact, Brown’s liberal credentials are quite solid. Besides being an original champion of extreme environmental causes, he supports the imposition of a full-fledged Canadian style health care system in the U.S. He is strongly pro-abortion (not something he picked up during his years as a Jesuit seminarian), is an active supporter of much of the homosexual agenda, and is adamantly opposed to the “barbaric” concept of a death penalty. Brown has declared himself to be a kindred spirit to Ralph Nader, and has worked hard to convince Jesse Jackson to be his running mate.
Brown does differ from his liberal colleagues when it comes to lifestyle. Despite their class warfare rhetoric, liberal politicians are just as likely as any greedy, hard-hearted, country-club conservative to take full advantage of all the kingly perks which have sometimes accrued to those who wield political power in our nation. In sharp contrast to these bipartisan abuses of the public trust, Brown chose to dump the California Governor’s personal limousine and jet when he took office in 1975. Then he refused to take up residence in the Governor’s mansion instead opting to rent a $250/month apartment. This may have been a bit excessive, but he certainly chose to err in the right direction.
In his current presidential bid, Brown has made the cleansing of government corruption his primary focus, something few liberals or conservatives have been even willing to discuss. He presents himself as a moral crusader on behalf of Everyman, fighting to overthrow a bloated and arrogant Beltway oligarchy of career politicians and entrenched bureaucrats. His impassioned assaults are leveled without mercy against “money grubbing Congressmen” and every other species of “bought and paid for politicians.” If Brown’s campaign can help to make voters more aware of the sordid behavior of our governing officials and their patronage armies, then he will have made a valuable contribution toward the national reformation we so desperately need.
Not all of Brown’s critics dismiss him as a flake. In fact, many believe him to be the consummate opportunist with a deliberate method behind much of his madness. They portray him as a chameleon whose flip-flops on the issues are not only frequent but fundamental. Substantive examples abound, some of them on positions which form the core of Brown’s campaign platform.
Two planks in Brown’s platform somehow got warped as he tried to appeal to Michigan voters. Early in the campaign, he had repeatedly attacked Tom Harkin for having taken contributions from labor unions. Yet as soon as Harkin dropped out, Jerry Brown traded in his turtlenecks for a union jacket and began to curry favor with the same union leaders, focusing on the United Auto Workers PAC which provided $1.8 million to Democratic candidates in 1990. And as the audience changed, so did the message. Gone was Brown’s decade long defense of free trade and the North American common market. Whereas last year protectionists were nothing more than “crybabies who can’t compete,” today they are the patriotic defenders of American jobs which greedy capitalists plan to ship down to Mexico.
All this has led a disillusioned Mickey Cantor (Brown’s 1976 campaign manager) to ask the obvious question, “How many times can we allow Jerry Brown to reinvent himself?” In the opinion of columnist Michael Kinsley, “Brown’s campaign technique is to grab onto some issue he’s shown no previous sign of caring about and then to condemn with self-righteous wrath everyone else who fails to join him immediately in his newfound faith. Of course, this assumes that Brown genuinely does believe what he is preaching.
Brown himself has offered a disturbing analogy to justify his inconsistencies. He likens politics to paddling a canoe. One must alternate between paddling on the right and left sides in order to make the canoe go straight. This is situational ethics at its worst. One would rather Brown simply confess his own double-mindedness on many of the major issues facing our nation, and retract his bid to be captain of the ship of state until he can master the basics of moral/political navigation. No country can build a prosperous future unless it is first well grounded in a set of clear and unchanging bedrock principles. National malaise is the inevitable result of the instability and insecurity engendered by leadership which can only offer a vacillating vision of the future and which lacks a reliable moral compass to keep us on course.
The Bible has a lot to say about character, integrity and leadership qualities. For example, we are told that “a fool is hotheaded and reckless” (Proverbs 14:6), and that “it is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way” (Proverbs 19:2). Since these characteristics are inappropriate for any level of leadership, how much more then should they be considered disqualifications for someone seeking the presidency?
Scripture also tells us that “a man of understanding keeps a straight course” (Proverbs 15:21), but that “a double-minded man is unstable in all he does” (James 1:8). Should we not then look for leaders that exhibit clarity of vision, consistency of principle, and stability of character? If we not only apply these standards to our public officials, but actually endeavor to live them ourselves, then there is hope that as a nation we will no longer be “infants tossed back and forth by the waves and blown here and there by every wind of teaching, and by the cunning and craftiness of man in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). Instead, we will have taken an important first step toward the restoration of maturity, security, morality and prosperity that our nation once enjoyed.