Folks, meet Willie Brown, the former California Assembly Speaker and former mayor of San Francisco. Bill Clinton bestowed the honorific, the real "Slick Willie," on Brown over games of blackjack in the early 1980s.
At a recent forum with "Da Mayor" organized by the Oxonian Society, Brown regaled the audience with tales from his storied political career. Though he is close to the Clintons, he has not endorsed Hillary. He doesn't plan to endorse a candidate because he does not want to compromise his credibility as a TV analyst.
With that disclaimer, Brown observed:
Hillary’s campaign has been conducted to her detriment. It should have been conducted as an applicant rather than on the assumption of entitlement. She should have made her gender a cornerstone of a candidacy that would have been as big a change as the first black president.
In the world of politics, experience is highly overrated. Hillary made the mistake that the voters would be enthralled with her experience over a newcomer with enthusiasm.
Her campaign has been a disaster for what should have been a spectacular candidacy. She is as unique to this process as Barack Obama, and she is as much of a change agent as Barack Obama.
Brown conjectured that Obama started thinking about his candidacy early on:
He has done the things that have prepared him to be president. He positioned himself so as not to be perceived as a black presidential candidate, but as a qualified candidate who just happens to be black.
Obama correctly assessed that black people would be so enthusiastic and proud that he wouldn’t have to do anything.
Brown was national chairman of Jesse Jackson’s 1988 campaign. Jackson, in contrast, struggled to get white votes:
Obama has eliminated the need to even address the question. Whether he can go the full distance, I don’t know. But he has made it patently okay to vote for a black if you’re not black, and made it mandatory to vote for him if you are black.
I asked Brown about the role of superdelegates and to address the chatter about an alleged conspiracy to “steal” the election from Obama.
Brown said “people who fear they’re losing or are going to lose” peddle conspiracy theories. “In politics, you win or lose. You have to accept each role.”
The Democratic Party set its own rules. Before the 1972 convention, newcomers were locked out. That changed with the McGovern Rule, which opened up the process and made it possible for a non-Establishment candidate to pile up delegates. In fact, Brown led the credentials floor fight in 1972.
And contrary to conventional wisdom, superdelegates are not “hacks.” Brown said they have earned a seat at the table:
Superdelegates are people who deserve, on the basis of their work, to participate in the selection of their standard bearer. Too many people come to the party for the first time and think they’re entitled. They just show up and want to call the shots.
Brown was dismissive of "one-issue persons" and "Johnny-come-latelys who come with all their friends and relatives and leave."
Superdelegates are there for the long haul. The rules are designed to ensure that there is still a Democratic Party when the political novices leave. So, their principal concern is:
How do we win the election against Republicans? We do it by hard work. The critics of superdelegates should be respectful of that history. They should change the process by participating in it not by discrediting it.
The bottom line: "The rules are the rules. If you lose, you lose."