Hillary Clinton just got what amounts to a presidential endorsement from one of the crookedest characters in California politics—Willie Brown, the Assembly Speaker who called himself the Ayatollah for his strong-arm tactics. His long political career, which took him from the capitol in Sacramento to the mayor’s office in San Francisco, and which occasioned the writing of term-limit laws to pry him from his Speaker’s desk, is riddled with accusations of cronyism and corruption.
To take one example, while serving in the Assembly, Brown openly attempted to browbeat the University of California into admitting “the son of a close friend of Brown’s”. After initially refusing, but then growing fearful that the petty assemblyman would cut UC funds, a Chancellor then considered admitting him outside of the application process if the student in question committed to complete the required pre-med courses. This was not good enough for Willie Brown, who reportedly said, “You go back and tell those b******s that if this kid is not admitted forthwith, without any conditions, the university’s 1973-4 budget will be reduced by 10 million”. When UC refused, Brown made good on his threat.*
These days Brown appears to still exert considerable informal influence on California’s political scene, and he contends that “Clinton is the only real candidate the party has”. In brushing off other candidates, he refers to Joe Biden as “too much of the politics of yesterday”, remarks that Andrew Cuomo has a “good name, good image, but he has yet to accomplish anything grand or make a mark on the national stage”.
Can Brown—an empty-vessel politician of yesterday if ever there was one—hear himself?
What could be more representative of the “bad old days” than Hillary Clinton’s support for the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, the knee-jerk response of the U.S. after 9/11, or her unconditional backing of the irresponsible where not outright criminal financial industry which brought our public to its knees?
And what has Hillary Clinton ever accomplished as a legislator or cabinet secretary? She used her time in the Senate to put her name on a series of anodyne bills, refusing to rock the boat or tackle any big issue lest she offend anyone in advance of her 2008 presidential bid. As Secretary of State, she similarly disdained to tackle any big problems, and will be best remembered for being one of the neocons in the administration who urged the President to escalate our disastrously bloody war in Afghanistan and South Asia and to open up drone wars in North Africa and beyond.
That her tenure is most marked by advocacy of a bloody-minded U.S. foreign policy demonstrates that the vote on the Iraq war was not some aberration in which she and other right-wing democrats were somehow “tricked” by the Bush administration. Rather, it is a vote which is emblematic of the cynical and violent foreign policy which she has been pushing for over a decade now, with disastrous results for the public.
It was fitting when lawmakers pushed to name the trouble-plagued new span of the Bay Bridge after a vice-ridden former Assembly Speaker. It is equally fitting that a nihilistic political operator like Hillary Clinton should receive the backing of as sorry an individual as Willie Brown. She deserves him. And if the Democratic Party can't come up with a more progressive candidate than Hillary Clinton, maybe it deserves her!
* This incident is recorded in Jay Michaels and Dan Walters, Third House: Lobbyists, Money, and Power in Sacramento(Institute of Governmental Studies Press, 2002), 88-89.