Gov. Jerry Brown’s terse speech at the State of the State got me to thinking about his rhetorical style. When I was a teenager in the 1970s, I was fascinated by Brown when he was running for president in 1976. He would say the most refreshing things in an interesting manner. Limits, conserve, explore, create, new thinking: he was kind of a New Age JFK. He didn’t get the nomination, but it was easy to see how he could have.
He still expresses himself in an intriguing way, but the speech Wednesday left me feeling like the 1976 Jerry Brown was told by the 2014 Jerry Brown to get the hell off of his lawn.
When Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, 30 years younger than Jerry Brown, gave his own Pocket-Sized State of the State address while introducing the governor, Brown made sure that he was brushed back from the plate:
“Lieutenant Governor, I appreciate change but I also value continuity.”
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As a former baseball star, Newsom recognized that as a high hard one. Step back from box. Tap dirt off cleats with bat. Take a few check swings.
This moved me to envision the old Jerry Brown speech with today’s Jerry Brown speech.
OLD BROWN SPEECH:
Listen up. You people are fat and docile and manipulated by a huge system that needs to be shaken up. You are encrusted with terrible habits. Get off the couch. Turn off the “Dukes of Hazzard.” Wipe those Doritos crumbs off your gut. Now.
You guys think about yesterday and today, and I am here to get you thinking about your future. Your future isn’t going to be here if you keep staring at the open refrigerator and trying to decide between the frozen pizza rolls and the Creamsicles. The future isn’t for the soft and doughy; the future is there to be seized by the lean and the spare. And you’re not spare.
You want the Bonnevilles that get 8 mpg and the La-Z-Boys and riding lawnmowers. You look down at your feet instead of up to the stars. Well, let me tell you something: we are going to run out of gas someday, and you’ll be driving your Bonneville in your driveway on blocks.
Now get up, lose the Cheetos, hit the bricks and stop thinking about things that don’t matter. Read Plato, memorize Greek poems, do some Euclidian geometry, and then hit the gym.
NEW BROWN SPEECH:
I meant all that stuff I used to talk about, but now I am 75 years old, and I have a little different view of things. I get that not everyone is going to read Thucydides, and that we are not all 36 years old anymore. So here’s the deal.
I’m losing the classical references. I’m going with something a lot of you get: a cute dog. It was an accident that I have him; my sister left him with me when she went to New York. But I saw in him a way to communicate with you people who didn’t major in classics at an Ivy League school. And that’s OK.
My dad was governor. I thought I could become president; I didn’t. I’m fine with that. But I’m the president of California, and that ain’t hay, baby. We’re the same size as Canada, and we do a lot of serious stuff. But I can’t unify this state with a bunch of rhetoric anymore. They’re not listening to my radio station: they are listening to their own podcasts. So I am going to make it simple.
We need to build large things out of metal and cement, and that’s gonna create jobs. You may not like it, but it’s a fact. Tunnels, trains, bridges, it’s what I’ve got. I can’t fly you to the moon anymore, but I might be able to get you someplace in the Central Valley on a train. And that subsidiarity thing? That was a mistake. No one can remember what it even means.
Now, get off my lawn. And Newsom? See you here in 2040.