What Barack Obama could learn from Jerry Brown 

click to enlarge Warren Beatty and Halle Berry starred in “Bulworth,” a movie about a tell-it-like-it-is politician, but Gov. Jerry Brown’s unapologetic defense of his miserliness and rebuke of politics as usual could give President Barack Obama a lesson or two.
  • Warren Beatty and Halle Berry starred in “Bulworth,” a movie about a tell-it-like-it-is politician, but Gov. Jerry Brown’s unapologetic defense of his miserliness and rebuke of politics as usual could give President Barack Obama a lesson or two.

Recently President Barack Obama admitted that he thinks of “going ‘Bulworth’” from time to time. Because, like baseball fans, political junkies will watch any movie about politics — even bad ones — Economist subscribers and Halle Berry fans recognized the reference to the movie “Bulworth.”  

In the 1998 movie, Warren Beatty is a U.S. senator representing California who decides to end his life.

For the sake of his family, he takes out a huge life insurance policy and hires a hit man. In the days while he awaits death, with nothing to lose, he finally begins to tell his truth about American politics.

In one scene that takes place in a black church, after a short speech, a parishioner asks, “When the riots and civil unrest went down about four years ago, you promised us federal funding to rebuild our community. What happened?”

Replies Bulworth, “Well, what happened was that we all knew that that was going to be big news for awhile, so we all came down here — Bush, Clinton, Wilson, all of us, we got our pictures taken, told you what you wanted to hear and we pretty much forgot about it.”

“We can’t get any insurance down here,” says the next member of the congregation. “We can’t get health insurance, fire insurance, life insurance. Why haven’t you come out for Senate Bill 2720?”

“Well, because you haven’t really contributed any money to my campaign, have you?” Bulworth says. “You got any idea how much these insurance companies come up with? They pretty much depend on me to get a bill like that and bottle it up in my committee during an election and that way we can kill it when you’re not looking.”

At the rollout of his version of the state budget May 13, Gov. Jerry Brown showed us a little Bulworth himself, responding to reporters’ answers with remarkable candor.

“The advocates of health and welfare programs that have been cut over the last few years are saying it’s time to restore that,” said one reporter. “What’s your reaction to that?”

“No,” was Brown’s simple answer.  

When asked later if he was concerned that Democratic politicians would not fully “hear” the governor’s message about austerity in light of new tax revenues, Brown exclaimed, “Everybody wants to see more spending, that’s what this place is! It’s a big spending machine. Ya need something? Come here and see if you can get it. But I’m the backstop at the end.”

Back in 1930, Will Rogers wrote, “The high office of the president has been degenerated into two ordinarily fine men being goaded by political leeches into saying things that if they were in their right minds they wouldn’t think of saying.

“Sometimes it makes you think we don’t need a different man as much as we need different advisers for the same man.”

Brown doesn’t have a chief of staff. He’s his own advisor. If Obama dreams of being more “Bulworth,” he should model his communications after an actual California politician and speak from the heart. There is more to leadership than simply being liked.

Melissa Griffin’s column runs each Thursday and Sunday. She also appears Mondays in “Mornings with Melissa” at  6:45 a.m. on KPIX (Ch. 5). Email her at mgriffin@sfexaminer.com.

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Melissa Griffin

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