Jerry Brown’s Midnight in America

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Though the sun is setting on my time of public service, it will always be rising for this great state et cetera, et cetera, and though we face daunting challenges let me assure you that I have never been more optimistic about the endless promise of blah, blah, blah.

But if Jerry Brown were a conventional politician he would never have been on the national stage for a half-century. He would have been shooed off it several decades ago, to a chorus of mockery about his supposedly eccentric style and mournful commentary about faded promise and what might have been.

Instead, at age 80, Brown is leaving the governorship of the nation’s largest state in a few hours, at noon on Monday. If this departure seems a bit reluctant—he pauses slightly, before demurring when I ask him if he wishes he could keep his job—it is emphatically on his own terms. A leader who at times has been treated as a figure of ridicule has vindicated his place as one of the most serious people in American life across two generations.

During an interview with POLITICO at the governor’s mansion here in late December, Brown was indeed serious. He is not full of warm words about the native wisdom of the people: They strike him as scared, easily prone to distraction and cynical manipulation. He is not more optimistic than ever: He is worried the planet is hurtling toward catastrophe.

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