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The real comeback kid

Mark Mardell | 15:24 UK time, Monday, 3 January 2011

"The Comeback kid" is an overused term in American politics, first applied to Bill Clinton, now used for any politicians who may be experiencing something of a renaissance, including Obama.

Jerry Brown

But surely no-one deserves the title more than Jerry Brown who becomes California's governor today. It's his third term. His first two were between 1975 and 83. When first took office Harold Wilson was prime minister in Britain. The outgoing governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, hadn't thought about becoming the Terminator, let alone the "Governator", and was still gleaming and posing his way to the title of Mr Universe, as detailed in the film Pumping Iron.

I am about halfway through a new biography of Schwarzenegger, "The Govenator" by Ian Halperin and it makes fascinating reading. The central character of most political biographies features a man or woman who has never done anything outside politics unless it is being a lawyer. I have certainly never before read so much about steroids and flexing. According to the book Schwarzenegger couldn't bear not winning, not being the best of the best. It is by no means certain he'll get that title as California's 38th governor.

But what of the old new kid on the block? In his first terms of office Brown was nicknamed "Governor Moonbeam" for what one columnist considered his far out ways, including extending California's space programme. The journalist later recanted.

Brown dated the singer Linda Ronstadt, and lived not in the mansion but a modest flat. Liberals at least will see Brown as well ahead of the times in his concern for gay rights, opposition to the death penalty and enthusiastic backing of green projects.

Brown faces huge challenges. California, which would be eighth in world economic ranking if it was a country, faces bankruptcy. Although one conservative magazine suggested that in his first terms Brown was more of a fiscal conservative than Reagan, it will be hard to turn on friends in the unions and force deep cuts. Indeed, his economic programme seems the familiar theme (from Obama to the UK and the EU) of creating green jobs mixed with equally familiar ideas of cutting red tape and more nebulous ones of encouraging manufacturing. We'll be watching to see if Moonbeam can cut through the fog that has descended on the Golden State.


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