Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny: Book Review: "Willie Brown"

Is this where I put in key words such as sex, lesbians, vampires, Christopher Lloyd and others things to which this blog do not pertain, but by putting them here, I may get hits from all the Christoper Lloyd lesbian vampire fans (and you know who you are)? This is the primarily humorous and occasionally rambling writings of Leon Tchaikovsky, humor writer. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Book Review: "Willie Brown"

Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny

For people who enjoy reading about legislators in their spare time, and for those who don’t but who like biographies which relate the subject and the subject’s times, Willie Brown: A Biography by James Richardson is a book for both. Willie Brown, currently San Francisco’s flamboyant Mayor, is perhaps better known for his prior years as California’s House Speaker. A politician regarded as both a political reformer and a modern political boss, a sometime political progressive and sometime defender of corporate interests, a man of humble background who flaunts a flashy lifestyle, Willie Brown is a study in a man’s contrasts and complexities.

This biography neither glorifies nor lambastes its subject. The reader is allowed to thoroughly understand the gray areas between the good and evil which is the human nature of most public figures. We learn of Willie Brown and the events shaping his life and history. Among these were his battles with men who would be or would run for President (Governors Ronald Reagan and Jerry Brown), the campaign support he received from members of the People’s Temple and their tragic mass suicide and murder of Willie Brown’s friend, Rep. Leo Ryan, the assassination of another associate of Willie Brown’s, Mayor George Moscone, and his time in the national political scene including chairing Jesse Jackson’s Presidential campaign.

Much of Willie Brown’s life evolved from being involved and reacting to the events of the day. For instance, when his name was signed, without his knowledge, to a letter of state legislators opposed to the Viet Nam War, Willie Brown decided, rather than repudiate the letter, to become a prominent activist against the Viet Nam War. In another incident, Willie Brown demonstrated it is possible to mold results where others fail to envision. When House Speaker Jesse Unruh deliberately presented Willie Brown with the chair of a meaningless committee which registered lobbyists, Willie Brown molded this position into a forum for lobbying reform and for attacking conflicts of interest among state officials. Instead of accepting legislative exile, Willie Brown gained notoriety.

We learn that Willie Brown sought being the center of attention from childhood and how this trait was internalized through lifelong quests for leadership. Willie Brown emerged from a life of gambling and nightlife into a life of politics and nightlife. Recruited by college friends John and Phillip Burton (both of whom destined to become members of Congress) to become active in college politics, Willie followed the Burton brothers into San Francisco’s progressive politics. This became complicated as a campus political rival, Jesse Unruh, continued this rivalry through their mutual legislative service.

Controversy followed Willie Brown’s legislative life. Branded as both a radical liberal and a conservative coalition builder, Willie Brown learned that power and personal feelings can change and that these changes can be used for advantage. Enemies can become friends and friends can become enemies. Eventually, Willie Brown would make peace and become an eventual heir to his longtime rival Jesse Unruh.

Readers learn how once Willie Brown became Speaker that he was adept at maintaining power. At times supported by intense partisan lines and other times supported by a bipartisan coalition against rivals from his own Democratic Party, Willie Brown is credited with being the first of a new breed of political leader. A member of the progressive movement which shunned the old style arm-twisting political boss, Speaker Willie Brown maintained his power by wielding his ability to attract and then dispense campaign contributions. By serving as a central campaign collection point and then dividing the money to his legislative supporters, legislators were distanced from the political complications of association with the contributors. Willie Brown favored this role, as it built his stature as the person for organizations to contact to get things done in the California House.

The author demonstrates that Willie Brown enjoyed political power games more for the sake of power than for setting policy. Willie Brown played the legislative power game very well for a long time. When he finally lost the power game, he exited by becoming a big city Mayor. This book presents a remarkable study of one of America’s most resilient politicians.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can you say "Willie" without laughing?

12:39 PM


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