Nagourney Praises Gov. Moonbeam's 'Mental Acuity' and 'Command of Facts'

Adam Nagourney on California Gov. Jerry Brown: "[He] proceeded to answer the reporters' questions with a display of self-confident humor and a command of facts, history and language that befits a man in the eighth decade of his life, as he likes to describe himself....Eighth decade or not, Brown's mental acuity can be imposing."
Quirky liberal California Gov. Jerry Brown (elected to the post for the second time) was glorified in Sunday's New York Times Magazine story by reporter Adam Nagourney in "Jerry Brown's Last Stand."

Brown proceeded to answer the reporters' questions with a display of self-confident humor and a command of facts, history and language that befits a man in the eighth decade of his life, as he likes to describe himself
. The news conference ended, 22 minutes after it began, only when a reporter signaled the close with a clipped, "Thank you, governor." Brown wandered down the terminal, trailed by two television reporters who wanted to book him for studio interviews. One handed him a business card, which Brown slipped into his shirt pocket. When the governor arrived at his waiting car, he laid a garment bag straight and neat in the trunk and climbed into the passenger seat.

Nagourney completely skipped the controversy over the Brown campaign's "whore" comment made against Republican opponent Meg Whitman. A conversation accidentally taped by voice-mail revealed that Brown and his aides suggested Whitman be called a whore for exempting a police union from pension reform.

Nagourney also tilted the policy debate in Brown's favor, underplaying the impact of new taxes Brown would install, calling them "extensions of modest surcharges" instead.

None of this is to say Brown is undisciplined. From speeches to news conferences to meetings with lawmakers, he has meticulously made his case for solving the state's budget crisis
. He proposed eliminating a $26.6 billion shortfall with nearly equal measures of spending cuts - to public schools, higher education, health care programs for the elderly, economic-redevelopment funds for communities - and extensions of modest surcharges on the state's income tax (0.25 percent), sales tax (1 percent) and automobile registrations (0.5 percent) that would otherwise expire. More than $10 billion in cuts have already been signed into law. But if he cannot win approval for those taxes, he says he will close the rest of the gap by cutting spending further, declaring that he would not sign a budget that papers over the shortfall with fiscal trickery.

And a trait that could have been portrayed as obsessive and disconcerting egotism in a Republican was seen merely as evidence of "mental acuity" with the liberal Gov. Brown.

Eighth decade or not, Brown's mental acuity can be imposing
. Sharing a turkey sandwich with me and Maureen Dowd, the New York Times Op-Ed columnist, at a hotel meeting room in Anaheim not long ago, Brown started reminiscing about his 1992 campaign for president. "In 1992, I gave a speech in Philadelphia - which you didn't cover, I remember you were not there," he said, looking at me pointedly. He turned back to Dowd. "Neither were you," he said. Brown not only remembered the year of the first New York Times Magazine profile of him (1975), he remembered who wrote it (Richard Reeves) and the theme of the piece, or at least the way Brown read it (Brown was smart but unlikable).

Nagourney mentioned Brown took an unusual step down, serving as mayor of Oakland after being governor of the state. What he didn't mention was Brown's job performance during his eight years as mayor (1999-2007), which did not bring impressive results. In 2010 Forbes ranked Oakland dead last in job creation in its size category.

Nagourney consistently avoided or downplayed the liberal ideology of "Governor Moonbeam."

There may be no better prism to view what is happening to the left during this era of the Tea Party than through Brown's difficulties this spring. Although Brown may never have been the liberal that many took him for, he falls on the left on any conventional political spectrum. In the midst of his bracing talk about the need to change the way business is done in Sacramento, he came under fire for negotiating agreements with California unions - including some big supporters of his campaign - that fell short of winning the concessions he had promised and that fiscal analysts say are critical for his state's long-term health. Yet at the same time, the argument playing out in this most Democratic of states is not whether there should be cuts in spending on social programs but whether the cuts should be very deep or very, very, very deep. Brown's budget is hardly the kind of proposal a governor like Brown's father would have championed.

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