"A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth." -- Michael Kinsley, journalist
In California, it's all but inevitable that a lieutenant governor will take a few verbal swipes at the governor. After all, what else does a Calfornia lieutenant governor have to do? The official duties of the office are so meager (serving on some boards, including the university systems) that it should be eliminated or consolidated with other statewide executive offices.
But when Gavin Newsom took his swipes at Jerry Brown this week, he was too easily dismissed. In Sacramento, this was seen as something of a gaffe. But it was gaffe only in the Michael Kinsley sense.
Newsom told the truth about Brown. In a radio interview on KQED, Newsom praised the governor's focus on fiscal matters, but then stuck in the knife by adding, "but what we need is a vision for greatness again." He also described Brown as less than collaborative. He also aired policy differences on redevelopment and budget cuts.
All this is considered poor form in political circles -- but it's also true. Brown has made a fetish of his focus on the small things, and he has declined to put forward a broader vision for fixing California's broken system -- which some of us (including this Prop Zero blogger) think must come first if the state is going to make real progress in addressing its many challenges. And Brown is well known as a lone wolf who is extremely hands on and governs through a small circle of advisors, including his wife.
Of course, talk is cheap. And none of this means anything, unless Newsom is prepared to challenge the governor in a Democratic primary in 2014. And that seems unlikely. Newsom could have taken on Brown in 2010, but he chose not to. That caution is characteristic of the rising generation of California politicians -- they've been unwilling to take on veteran Democrats with high name recognition. It'd be useful if Newsom's talk was followed by political action.