Political Zen

I worked for Jerry Brown’s Presidential campaign in 1992. I was in the Santa Monica office, the national campaign headquarters. My impression was that he was running it pretty much on a wing and a prayer. But I really wouldn’t know since I was just some guy who came in few nights a week and did whatever they asked me to do, That was just the feeling I had.

Which is not to suggest he wasn’t serious or that he didn’t work hard. I had to tip my hat to him, going out to the Midwest to stand outside the gates of manufacturing plants, virtually alone, extending his hand, saying “Hello, I’m Jerry Brown” to blue collar guys who might never have heard of him or if they did, knew him only as “Gov. Moonbeam.”

In the waning days of the campaign, I was asked to help out with the California regional office, set up in a little building behind Lucy’s El Adobe Cafe. I think the writing was on the wall by then and there wasn’t a lot going on. As a result, I became rather acquainted with Lucy’s Margaritas on the Rocks. Lucy, by the way, is a wonderful woman, but I didn’t end up getting to know her quite as well.

In 1992, Jerry Brown was angry. He sensed, rightly, that the voters were angry, too. The problem is that no matter how angry the voters get, they don’t want to vote for a angry guy. You can feed off the voter’s anger but you can’t feed it back to them. Voters need to be spoon-fed hopeful messages and thoughtful platitudes.

Brown was rail thin that year, almost anorexic. I heard a story, and obviously I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it goes that he had dinner one night with Warren Beatty and Annette Bening at their house in Beverly Hills or wherever they lived, and all through the dinner Beatty didn’t say a word, while Jerry and Annette engaged in a lively conversation. Finally, towards the end of the dinner, Warren Beatty leaned over, wagged a finger at Jerry Brown and said, “Funnier and fatter.”

Apparently, Beatty had seen what Brown had missed.

During his 1980 run, he said he wanted to combine Buckminster Fuller’s visions of the future with E.F. Schumacher’s theory of “Buddhist economics”. After that campaign ran out of steam, he decided not to try for a third term as governor, but to run for US Senate, and lost to Pete Wilson. A few years afterward, Brown studied Zen with Christian/Zen practitioner Hugo Enomiya-Lassalle under Yamada Koun-roshi in Japan.

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