Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
Published: Tuesday, Apr. 17, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

Two years ago, when Jerry Brown was trying to reclaim the governorship he had left 28 years earlier, he often said that his age, maturity and lack of political ambition would allow him to succeed where others had failed.

Brown said he would patiently attack the state’s political issues, especially the deficit-ridden state budget, and “I will tell the truth in ways (that hadn’t occurred) in years past.”

Those “years past” included his own first governorship, when Brown developed a reputation for saying whatever sounded politically advantageous at the moment, regardless of how it may have differed from what he had said previously.

Most famously, he denounced Proposition 13, the landmark 1978 property tax limit, as “a rip-off,” but immediately after its passage, proclaimed himself to be a “born-again tax cutter,” sponsored a state income tax cut and then ran for president in 1980 as an apostle of limited government.

When confronted with his contradictions, usually by journalists, Brown would figuratively shrug and utter some variation of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s aphorism, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

In other words, he implied, political shiftiness is the hallmark of a superior intelligence.

As Brown was seeking the governorship again in 2010, he implied to voters that he had grown up, wasn’t going to be flaky any more and would give them nothing but straight talk.

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