Saturday, July 02, 2005

California Rising: The Life and Times of Pat Brown by Ethan Rarick

Ethan Rarick has written a lean, clean and nowise mean personal and political biography of the one politician who has done more to enhance the golden glow of California than other before or since. Governor Edmund G. (Pat) Brown was a builder, not only of schools, highways, waterways and the cities that sprang from them, but also of bridges between the races. He sponsored legislation and promoted education, welfare, social justice and many other services that raised the incomes and quality of life for all Californians.

Though his productive eight hears in Sacramento was terminated in 1968 by Ronald Reagan, much of the Brown legacy is still operative today. Reagan and subsequent Republican governors George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and now, the biggest Terminator of them all, have all worked hard to dismantle the opportunities and social services fostered and developed by Brown. They have been reduced from Brown's levels, but not eliminated. And the universities, highways, waterways still stand to provide the infrastructure that enables California to grow, prosper and allow so many to enjoy another day in paradise.

But this book is not merely a litany of his accomplishments. It also describes the sad vacillations of a good and decent man who got caught in the middle of some issues he could not overcome. Because, for instance, of his conflicting personal and political concerns and ambitions, he was not able to present a clear stand on the oft scheduled and eventual execution Caryl Chessman. Because he had done so much toward building UC Berkeley into the top school it had become, he could not understand the Free Speech Movement that rocked the campus in 1964. And because he had accomplished so much to advance minority housing rights and protections, he was baffled by the violence and horror of the Watts Riots in 1965.

Nor could he understand how Lyndon Johnson and other major Democratic personages could turn their backs on him as his political standing came under pressure. And this, after he had strenghtened the Democratic party by his defeats popular Republicans Bill Knowland and Richard Nixon, and expanded the presence of Democrats throughout all levels of California office holders and judgeships.

California Rising is a very good book about a very good man, and both the book and the man deserve serious attention.


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