Jerry Brown took some of his toughest shots of the campaign at Republican Meg Whitman at a rollicking rally Sunday night in San Jose, where former president Bill Clinton warmly embraced his one-time Democratic rival, lavishly praising him as a leader who “has always been on the side of positive change.”
The old-fashioned political rally drew about 3,000 people to the Event Center at San Jose State University, the second large, raucous event Clinton headlined in the state, as he energetically turned his popularity in California to motivating Democrats, especially younger ones, to cast ballots in an election year where most of the enthusiasm is on the Republican side.
Brown’s theme – apparently his closing meme – was “know-how, values and vision” – each of which he used to contrast himself to Whitman, the former CEO of eBay who has no prior direct political experience.
Clinton, on stage with Brown and Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Gavin Newsom, urged the audience to use all their social networking tools to contact their friends and if they’re not planning to vote, to ask them “What planet do you live on?”
Said the former president: “Your future’s on the line – but you’ve got to show up.”
Just two weeks before the Nov. 2 election, state Democratic leaders hope Clinton’s visit to the state can ignite the party’s base. It is a measure of the Democrat’s perilous political position in 2010 that the former president is spending time in California, normally a reliable blue state, during a midterm election where boosting turnout will be crucial to the party in holding down GOP gains in Washington and across the country.
The Whitman campaign sought to dismiss Clinton’s participation as a minor annoyance. “If it weren’t for his party affiliation, Bill Clinton wouldn’t have anything to do with Jerry Brown,” said Whitman spokeshuman Andrea Jones Rivera.
Recent polls have shown Brown narrowly leading Whitman, while incumbent Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer remains locked in a tight race with GOP challenger Carly Fiorina in the other top statewide race.
Brown and Clinton have a long history of political conflict, but there was no evidence of it on Sunday, as the two warmly hugged and exchanged compliments.
Brown introduced Clinton as a great guy and a great president who persevered “in the face of the most outrageous Republican opposition,” and credited him with leaving the nation with a surplus and with creating 22 million jobs during his two terms.
“Now I know this president’s amazing,” he said “He took a lot of crap from a lot of people, okay? Yeah, I gave him a little myself “
Striking a populist tone, Brown also praised Clinton for giving “the people at the bottom” a chance at the American Dream. “It’s how society takes care of the least powerful,” that truly matters, he said, paraphrasing Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
It was a theme that he elaborated upon in his own comments, as he assailed Whitman as a tool of the rich, and he doubled down on his recent attacks on the GOP nominee for her proposal to eliminate the capital gains tax in the state.
“Here’s the Whitman economic plan,” Brown said. “The most important part of her plan is to take the 1% of the people in California who pay 80% of the capital gains tax and give them a complete pass . . . So here’s the plan, take the money from you and give it to her and her friends and her contributors . . . She wants to give them a complete pass.”
Warming to his theme and tapping his inner William Jennings Bryan, Brown mocked Whitman’s statement that she doesn’t know how much her proposal would save her personally.
“Let me give Ms Whitman a little bit of advice. Go look at your tax return. There’s a little line on her tax return – which she won’t release by the way, to the public – and on that line it says how much your taxable gain is. So you know what it is…she knows the number!
“I know my number by the way. I paid $1400 in capital gains tax this year. Doesn’t she know? I don’t know. Maybe somebody stole her tax return, like they stole her mail or something,” Brown said to laughter, referring to Whitman’s allegation that her housekeeper stole her mail containing information about her mismatched Social Security number.
One of Brown’s biggest applause lines came when he referenced Whitman’s argument that most of the state’s fiscal problems can be traced to the power and greed of public employees unions, and her promise to lay off 40,000 state workers if she is elected.
“I’m not ashamed that people join unions and bargain collectively, because you know what? If you’re a janitor or you’re a farm worker or you’re a housekeeper, God help you if you don’t have somebody looking out for you that’s more powerful than you are. And that’s what it’s all about,” he said.
He also bashed Whitman as someone who wants to enter political life at the top of the ladder and is in it for her own personal ambitions.
“This is somebody who never voted, never got involved in her local school board, never did anything . . . and she wants to start at the top.” He compared her to a job applicant who goes to an interview and says, “Here’s my resume – it’s blank.”
Referring to Whitman’s injection of $140 million of her own funds into the race, he said: “We’ve found out a billion is not enough if that’s all you got.”
PS — Here’s our favorite Clinton riff (which we think we have verbatim):
I was raised in a home where nobody I knew had a college degree. I had people one generation older than me, who I knew had higher IQs than I did, who never had the opportunities I did. We were raised to believe if you were fortunate, you were supposed to give back to your community, give to the future of your community and that was the right thing. All I think about these days both here and when I work in Haiti and Africa and Latin America and East Asia and all these places … I just think about the fact that intelligence and ability and dreams are evenly distributed across this state, across this nation and across this world but the resources, they’re not evenly distributed. And whenever you let them get out of whack, you pay a terrible price. So what I think about all the time is, I want all of you to have the chance I did. That’s why Jerry Brown sounded so angry when he was talking.
We were raised in a totally different tradition. We were raised in the first generation of Americans that took a middle class lifestyle for granted. All we had to do was show up, be good students, obey the law, do what we were supposed to do and we had a chance to live our dreams. I have watched for 30 years the assault on the American Dream and I am sick and tired of it and I want you to stop that from being your future. (cue WILD APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)
Thanks to DWT for photos, limo service and transcription.