Edmund G. Brown, governor of California, is an extraordinary politician. You know that he is a politician the instant he shakes your hand, and asks where you come from and how you spell your name.
Governor Brown visited Cambridge yesterday, actively campaigning to avoid the Democratic vice-presidential nomination. The Governor was interviewed as he cruised through the city in a huge Cadillac limousine. The conversation went like this:
Reporter: Governor Brown, I would like to ask you a few questions about your feelings regarding the Vice-Presid. . .
Brown: So you're from New York. Do you get out to California much?
Reporter: No, I haven't been there. Sir, several of the top news magazines in the country regard you as the strongest candidate. . .
Brown: Well, if you get out to California sometime, uh. . .let me know. My youngest daughter Kathleen, is a sophomore at Stanford University this year. . . Do you like Harvard?
Governor Brown was having fun. Only when the reporter gave up his attempts at interviewing did the Governor begin to talk politics. He talks politics with an case and, considering his delicate position in the non-race for the Vice-Presidency, a frankness which is truly disarming.
Governor Brown considers former Vice-President Richard M. Nixon the most popular candidate right now for the Republican presidential nomination. He has tremendous grass roots support," the Governor said. "Of course he must be very careful to avoid any overt acts of campaigning for the nomination! His operation must be entirely undercover. But he's used to that--undercover is the way he's always operated."
The Governor hooked his left hand under the belt of his pants. It seems to be a characteristic gesture, but he has to suck his breath in hard to accomplish it: the former 100-pound high school basketball player occasionally seems to forget that he now carries a portly 185 pounds. What did he think of Pennsylvania Gov. William G. Scranton's chances? Scranton, he agreed, is the man to beat. "He has all the party professionals behind him, and while Nixon has grass-roots following, he can't convince the pros." Governor Brown said that Goldwater was badly hurt, in California as well as the South, by President Kennedy's death. Rockefeller, he suspects, does not have much chance.
Just then the Cadillac pulled up outside the Center for Urban Studies, one of the Governor's scheduled stops. He asked his aide where he was and what he was doing there as he got out of the limousine. The aide mumbled a few words to him as they walked up the stairs to the a few words to him as they walked up the stairs to the Center. Governor Brown was introduced to the directors of the project and was soon seated in a small office for a discussion with them. "I'm very interested in urban affairs--as you know, it's a big problem in California--and so I thought it appropriate while I was in Cambridge to stop at the Center and see if you could give me any advice."
Governor Brown listened to the advice punctuating the conversation with expressions of interest: "Oh, are ya? . . . How do you think it's going? . . . Do you really . . ." The fact is that he was interested in the conversation. The extraordinary thing about the Governor is that political mannerisms are not a pose for him, but an integral part of his personality. This gives him limits as well as assets: it makes him a bland figure, despite his sometimes courageous political positions. He seems almost incapable of offending anyone.
But Governor Brown is sincerely interested in people and their activities. He has an instinct for pleasing people even when they realize he is trying to please them. After the time allotted for the visit, the Governor's aide stood up and wordlessly began putting on his coat. "Oh, is it time to leave?" Governor Brown sounded truly disappointed. It was difficult to decide whether the aide's getting up so that the Governor appeared to linger was a gimmick or not.
In the limousine on his way to lunch, the Governor talked about the Vice-Presidential nomination. When the reporter suggested that it was not as exciting a job as being governor of the most populous state in the Union, Brown agreed that he was happy with what he was doing. But, he addled, if Johnson had refused the nomination in 1960, Dick Nixon would have won. That is a frightening thought to Governor Brown.
"You can't go after the vice-presidential nomination," Governor Brown said. "It would be embarrassing to President Johnson, and as far as I am concerned getting him re-elected is the most important thing." He tucked his hand under his belt again. "I'm pretty sure the President won't make a selection until after the Republican convention is over." He discounted Tuesday's trial balloon from the White House about Sargent Shriver for the post as a trial balloon. The President will fly a few more before this thing is over," he said.