Meg vs. Jerry: Can Two Very Different Candidates Both Be All Bad?


One-point-five cheers for Meg Whitman.

Reacting to my unkind words about Meg Whitman's platform, reader Jeff Muchmore, a grad student and recent California transplant, sends in a grim question:

[I]n simplistic terms, don't you think Brown would steer this state off a cliff much faster than Whitman? It's a grim question, but I can't imagine even from a libertarian perspective, which I share, that they are both equally bad. He's got to be worse.

I would separate personal philosophy from practical effects. Philosophically, it's hard to find worse than Jerry Brown, who will make us jog for the master race and always wear a happy face. Meg Whitman has been a huge disappointment – a figure out of the George H.W. Bush era in a year that has produced a slightly more interesting mix of Republican candidates in some parts of the country.  But throughout his career, Jerry Brown has been libertarian kryptonite.

Practical effect is a more interesting question. I don't see much evidence for the Nixon-in-China case made by David Crane (hero of an upcoming Reason TV show) and others—that Jerry Brown will get some union concessions that Meg Whitman couldn't. He is financially beholden to organized public employees, and there's nothing in his Oakland history, or his governorship during the era of dial phones, to indicate he'd do more than incremental compromises. But some people who know Sacramento make the case for him.

The first argument in Jerry's favor is that he has the credibility to get the unions to compromise, because he signed the Dills Act in 1977 – which allowed collective bargaining by state employees and paved the way for the current crisis. The second is that his Oakland experience alerted him to the way pension liabilities sucked up funds for his own programs. The third is that Jerry Brown is frugal: Despite the deathless "Gov. Moonbeam" knock, Brown has never been flaky so much as ascetic and pleasure-hating—very much in the Jimmy Carter mode. Witness his "Era of Limits" idea in the seventies.

So, maybe all that means he'd find ways to turn off the pension spigot. But that's taking a lot on faith. According to the Sac Bee, while he was governor Brown did veto pay raises twice and fire 3,000 employees at DOT. And he has forefronted his willingness to confront the unions during the campaign (while taking all their money and endorsements). But as attorney general, Brown spent the last four years ignoring criminal cases of benefits spiking in Bell and other towns around the state.

Furthermore, his experience as Mayor of Oakland does not suggest Brown had any big conversion on the pension issue. The OC Register's Brian Joseph digs up some details about old Oakland union contracts that give the lie to Brown's era-of-limits parsimony and makes him seem like just another incautious spender fooled by the age-of-abundance counterdelusion of the last decade. On the stump, Brown talks the pension issue better than Whitman does. But you're supposed to discover sobriety before the drunk-driving accident, not after.

Underlying the Nixon-in-China argument is respect for Jerry Brown's experience as a nuts-and-bolts government executive. In the first debate, Brown made the superficially compelling point that Whitman would follow in the footsteps of Arnold Schwarzenegger – a private sector success who underestimates how complicated and frustrating government can be.

But private sector experience – which Jerry Brown has never found much time for in his 72 years – comes in many shapes and sizes. There is a big difference between being a performer (who never even directed a movie) and being a tech executive.  Meg Whitman led a company involved in high volumes of money transactions, susceptible to every lawsuit imaginable and all lawsuits to be imagined in perpetuity and throughout the universe. During her tenure the economy experienced two recessions, one centered in the tech market, and California's business climate became steadily more hostile – with the lawsuit-happy Attorney General Jerry Brown doing his best to drive away business in recent years. Despite all those obstacles she successfully took the company public, saw revenues grow from $5.7 million in her first year to $7.6 billion in her last, and left eBay in excellent repair in 2008. (While Whitman detractors have used eBay founder Pierre Omidyar's non-endorsement against her, this had to do with Whitman's views on immigration and gay marriage, not her leadership skill — Omidyar made a point of saying she'd do a "great job" as governor.)

Does all that make Whitman the better candidate? Not necessarily – it's disturbing that on the public pension issue Whitman the entrepreneur can't even look more credible than Brown the union-funded son of a governor. But one thing you can definitely say for Meg Whitman: She could not be worse than Jerry Brown.

NEXT: Borders in O.C.: "No, pendejos: I'm far-far-left-libertarian-STANDING. Do your homework!"

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  1. Jerry Brown has had too many chances in his rather long political life to stand out from the crowd. Nothing he has done in any elected position can be construed as significantly benefiting Californians.

    On the other hand, Whitman seems more apt to pay lip service to any group in order to make her investment (in her campaign) pay off. She has yet to state any programs that will keep California from driving off a cliff financially.

    They are two rather different looking peas in a pod. Their goals are the same: Make California better for themselves.
    Their goals should be: make California better for Californians.

    Neither is worth discussing in a positive manner because neither will achieve anything but self-aggrandizement at the expense of financial and social freedom for those of us who live here.

    1. tl/dr: Fuck the both of them.

      1. Yer a real diamond in the rough, is what you are.

      2. Yeah, I love discussion like this as if it matter who in Hell we elect! “Corrupt politician” is a tautology.

      3. Meg’s default position on business will be to leave them alone. Jerry’s default position will be to eat the rich. Even if he did manage to chop unions, he would continue to make California toxic for business owners because he sees created private wealth as a piece of the pie just like union wages and benefits. You could expect to hear him say things like “We’ve had to make sacrifices in our unions and schools, it’s time for the rich corporate elite to make some sacrifices too.”. That was a good observation that he is a lot like Carter.

        1. You must be a part of Whitman’s inner circle because she hasn’t really said what her positions will be on business re. rolling back as much existing regulation as possible.

          It’s easy for a campaigning politician to say they are for leaving business alone. They all say that on the right. What I would hope for is one who spells out how they will unravel all of the existing regulation and disincentives that would actually create a hands-off government in the state. She is yet to do this either because she fears it will run off voters or because she lacks any clear vision how to get enough public support to force the legislature to do it.

          Yes, Jerry’s default position is to eat the rich (and businesses), but Meg’s seems to just say that the rich (and businesses) shouldn’t be eaten without being willing to say what steps she proposes to take to lead us to fiscal responsibility.

          Geez, so I guess she’s the turd with the clean end this election? In my book that still makes her a piece of shit.

          1. You’re right. I’m totally guessing. I just think it’s unlikely that she could run a business on that scale and come away with the impression that govt should be more involved. That said, Meg may be kinda shitty but Jerry is pure poison.

    2. C’mon, no difference? Really? The governor of Calif. exists for one reason and that is to stop a radical liberal state legislature from spending twice what they have instead of 110%. I saw Nick Gillespie on Fox the other night and he might be the only person at Reason not living in a bubble. Watch the news fellas, liberals are going to get served a shit sandwich in 4 weeks. Liberal Republicans have all ready been getting served up. It’s too bad a magazine supposedly devoted to liberty will be remembered for sitting on the sidelines during the greatest struggle since the Civil War.

      1. There actually are striking diffirences between the two. I just believe the net result will be the same: runaway spending and taxation with no accountability for public sector unions/interests, an unclear vision for California business development and growth, a continued exodus of existing industry and a continued diminishing of individual freedoms for the “greater good.”

        One speaks openly of his leftism. The other’s silence regarding property and other individual rights is deafening. One talks of relationships with public unions but offers no desire to force them to the table. The other pays lip service to them because she knows her vocal opposition leaves her with no chance to be elected.

        One talks of reining in profits. The other cannot name a single regulation/tax she wants cut so these businesses can operate more freely.

        Yeah, there are striking differences between them. Anyone can see that. The problem is, the differences won’t seem to matter without taking a great leap of faith that Meg Whitman is simply saying what she must say to get elected. Only then will we be able to see how the will govern the state. She sounds like Obamacare. “Elect her to see what’s in her.” (In her metaphorically, of course)

  2. Either one of them is a hell of a lot better politician that Cavanaugh is a political analyst.

    1. Wow, what a shocker coming from Max.

  3. a good read:…..1606365393

    1. So, cut and paste a bunch of shit and put “ref” after it without listing the references to support what you cut and pasted.

      This page just screams, “SOURCE.”

    2. Is it possible for a government to do too much? I prefer the government do as little as possible. They are less likely to fuck things up, when they don’t do anything.

      Less government = more freedom

    3. Second item on the list:

      Created an artist corps for public schools

      Well, thank heavens that burning problem has been solved at the federal level and the suffering has finally ended!!

  4. I recently made a comment saying that if someone wanted to make the Nixon in China argument about Jerry Brown, then now was the time to make it, but I had no idea anyone was seriously making that case…

    Unless I read it somewhere in recent weeks and it stuck in my head subconsciously–which I won’t rule out. I could have read it here at H&R and not remember, but that doesn’t happen very often.

    “The first argument in Jerry’s favor is that he has the credibility to get the unions to compromise, because he signed the Dills Act in 1977 ? which allowed collective bargaining by state employees and paved the way for the current crisis.”

    My first knock against the Nixon in China argument is that the Nixon in China only worked because no one expected it from one of the Grandest Inquisitors on the Un-American Activities Committee.

    In other words, nobody voted for Nixon because they wanted him to make nice with Chairman Mao. That would have been an absurd argument to make. You voted for Nixon because you wanted him to get tough with the communists among us and abroad–not to make friends with them!

    Likewise, voting for Jerry Brown because he’s so in bed with the public employees’ union, that they have to compromise with him?

    That’s like voting for Dick Cheney ’cause he’s so in bed with the neocons, he’s the only one who’ll put a stop to the War on Terror.

    I’m the first person to say that the State of California is ungovernable, and putting the right person in governor’s chair isn’t about to fix that–but putting someone who’s so obviously in bed with the public employees’ union really could make things worse…

    It seems to me that California’s biggest problem continues to be its public employees–and I just don’t see how somebody whose support is limited to mostly environmentalists, minority interests and public employees is about to kick the most important leg out in that three legged stool. Out from under himself?

    That ain’t gonna happen.

    The public employees won’t compromise until it’s absolutely necessary–they’re worse than the UAW was! Remember in ’08 when the UAW couldn’t get what it wanted from GM and Chrysler, so Gettelfinger started negotiating directly with the government for a takeover so they could get what they wanted from the Obama Administration instead?

    The UAW ended up owning a huge chunk of the company!

    We should assume the public employees union is even more entrenched than that. Even when the money dries up, they will never compromise until it’s absolutely necessary–and it will never be absolutely necessary so long as Jerry Brown is the governor.

    They’ll go to the streets like the public employees in France and Ecuador first.

    1. I don’t think that Brown in about to betray his life’s work.

      But, the Jerry Brown as “Nixon in China” meme proves that even progs recognize how corrupt the public employee-politician axis has become.

      1. It’s just hard to think of someone betraying their base like that…

        I can think of a few other times it’s happened nationally.

        1. Reagan embracing Gorbachev.

        2. Clinton embracing Free Trade.

        3. Bush the Lesser expanding Medicare.

        4. Bush the Greater raising taxes.

        I think national politics is different. I think it was Tip O’Neill who said “All politics is local”; I might have added, “…but some are more local than others.”

        When you’re talking about governing a state, it’s all about local interests. If local interests tend to dominate congressional politicians in Washington, how much more local is the California Legislature?

        If a President screws over UAW workers in Michigan–as influential as that can be–he has another 49 states to balance against that loss of support.

        If the governor of California screws over a major base of support within the state? It’s not like he can go to some other state for support.

    2. The entire “Nixon in China” argument depends on the premise that Nixon was a genuine anti-communist.

      He was a career politician. Could he of possibly been a genuine anything? He made anti-communist noises because someone whispered in his ear that it might get him through the next election. It could have just as easily been “appeasement works with thiese idiot voters.”

      Nixon was a principled power luster. Nothing more.

  5. I should add…

    I was a fan of Welch writing a book about McCain before he did so, and from your reporting on Bell to everything you’ve covered on public employees, etc…

    If you were gonna write a book, Mr. Cavanaugh, you could probably put together a pretty good one just from what you’ve already written about public employees in California. I don’t know if a book like that needs a national figure for national appeal–maybe California could make an excellent case study about the problems with public employees nationally?

    Maybe it uses a personality like Brown as a point of focus–I’ve heard persuasive cases made about how Prop 13 and the early stages of the Reagan Revolution were about opposition to some of the things Jerry Brown did with California’s finances. Rolling the Dills Act in his earlier incarnation into some of the reaction we saw to stuff like what ultimately happened in Bell sounds compelling…

    Anyway, if you wrote a book about public employee unions, city employees, surrounding problems, public finances, etc., I’d sure buy a copy.

  6. piercy, Sorry to hear that but Your friend should contact a Personal Injury Lawyer for a consultation, here is a good one that I know who offers free consultation for situation like yours, wish she feels better soon

  7. No governor is going to fix California; the legislature will make sure of that.

    The best that can happen is that you get an (R) who will more likely veto the next pile of stupid shit than a (D), which will slow California’s demise somewhat.

    1. Not to say that there is no hope for California. An initiative to repeal the Dills Act would work. So, too, could a 2012 election that installed a Republican President and sixty Republican senators, ready to amend Federal law to gut public employee unions.

  8. good read learn much from here!

  9. Tim are you aware of Meg Whitman’s reputation for strategic and management incompetence in the buisness world? Or the whole basis for her move into politics the reality that no one in the silicon valley wants to have anything to do with her. Do a little digging.

    1. Are you aware of your reputation for making unfounded allegations and repeating rumors?

  10. Wait till they get a load of me.

  11. Does anybody know the story of Jon Corzine and Carla Katz? Corzine was literally in bed with the union president. Now that’s a “Nixon in China”.

  12. Hey Tim, can’t a Libertarian Party candidate get even a little ink?

    1. Just what I was thinking.

  13. Witness his “Era of Limits” idea in the seventies.

    In defense of Governor Moonbeam (much as that pains me), shouldn’t it be noted that at least part of the”Era of Limits” idea was intended to temper peoples expectations of getting goodies from the government?

    It strikes me that Californians love them some huge infrastructure and other government goodies at levels higher than the rest of the country. Especially in water systems.

    Like everyone else in the world it never seems to occur to anyone to consider how all this was to be paid for. Californians seem to have turned this tendency into a high art form.

  14. I’d vote for Bigfoot if he promised to cut taxes, and I’d vote re-elect him if he did so when he got into office. I don’t care if he got hair in the food at some fancy state dinner, growled at a foreign emmisary, or pissed on the steps of the Capital building to mark his territory.

    Jerry Brown will vote to raise taxes.

    If I lived in their district, this would be a no-brainer.

  15. Well, the last thing any candidate needs on this site is an endorsement from me, but I’ve always found Brown’s willingness to think outside the box, though it may land him in goofy places at timess, to be a plus. In 1992 he ran for President with a flat tax proposal (designed by Laffer no less) as his main proposal. While liberal for sure he’s pushed for balanced budgets, and in 92 he was a deficet hawk, making the case to liberals as to why they should be appalled at government debt (i.e., it makes future taxpayers pay the interest to what are often wealthy debt holders).

    I’m not pretending that he doesn’t stand for a slew of things that are hated by libertarians. I do think though that libertarians ought to follow the NRA’s strategy of supporting candidates from both parties that are willing to support them, it’s clearly worked for them. But hey, “do whatcha like,” I’m not here to convert anyone.

    As an aside, is there a libertarian candidate for Gov. in California? Perhaps Reason has mentioned him/her and I missed it, or perhaps CA is unfriendly to 3rd party candidates and there is not one on the ballot?

    1. As an aside, is there a libertarian candidate for Gov. in California? Perhaps Reason has mentioned him/her and I missed it,

      Yes there is. And no they didn’t.

      Pennsylvania is the state that is unfriendly to third parties. There are no third party candidates on any statewide ballot in PA this year. None.…..he-ballot/

      In PA, 3rd party candidates need 20,000 signatures while R and D need 2,000. If a candidate is challenged in court on the signatures, and just one is not correct, the candidate is responsible for ALL legal fees which can be as high as $90,000. Just the threat of a legal challenge has forced the Libertarian Party, Green Party and Tea Party candidates to drop out in the Governor, Senate and Lieutenant Governor races. Joe Sestak is responsible for having the Green Party candidate drop out, and Tom Corbet is responsible for the Libertarian candidate. And you think democracy is alive and well. Fuck Republicans and fuck Democrats, and fuck anybody that supports or votes for a Republican or a Democrat.

    2. I also saw Brown on MTV circa 1980 explaining that the high cost of a college education was a racist plot to keep minorities uneducated, so there is a downside to “thinking outside the box.”

    3. —“it makes future taxpayers pay the interest to what are often wealthy debt holders”—

      With the amount of debt being accrued, who but the “wealthy” are we going to borrow from. You can’t run government programs with borrowing, and then complain about who loans you the money.

  16. “I’d vote for Bigfoot if he promised to cut taxes”

    If you live in Delaware or NY you’re going to get the closest approximation of that in your lifetime I’m betting…

  17. This is sad, a couple of comments down here don’t even use the most basic of grammar rules, and are we really going to let these people decide for us who is to be the leader? And the guy who wrote this article obviously has bias, a bend-over for Meg Whitman- But aside from that, I wish that someone would just provide us (Simpletons, the Average Joe) more concrete facts, rather then decorate it.

    I suppose it shows your intellectual prowess to dig, but think about it this way. What does it really show? That you have alot of time on your hands to psycho analyze everything? (Which I do, to a point.) Well sure it does show that you have already considered the evidence, but who cares about you? The Average American will get fed what the media feeds them, and most of it is decorated meat like Mcdonalds and Burger King, they’re both crap for you but taste good. I just wish someone would tell us plain and simple all the good and bad things the person has done… Not merely bad, or merely good- Like. The cheese has a tangy taste. Rather then.. The cheese is absolutely horrible, and it looks like a puke-like yellow color.

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