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Jerry Brown begs your forgiveness for being funny

September 13, 2010 |  5:50 pm

Jerry brown Fifty years ago, the media lionized President Kennedy for his quick wit.

Today, Jerry Brown is being pummeled in the media for cracking a joke about Bill Clinton.

Maybe Brown's riff about his fellow Democrat wasn't sufficiently funny, or maybe it's just too easy to lampoon the former adulterer in chief. Still, it's sad that Brown felt compelled to call a news conference Monday to apologize for his remarks at an event in Los Angeles the day before. His jab may have landed close to the belt line, but he didn't say anything that wasn't true.

Clinton got dragged into the California gubernatorial race by Brown's Republican opponent, Meg Whitman.  One of Whitman's seemingly limitless TV commercials excavates a 1992 video clip of Clinton (whom Brown was challenging for the presidential nomination) accusing Brown of raising taxes while governor. State tax officials debunked that claim last week, and Brown has denounced Whitman for airing it.

At Sunday's event, Brown expanded his critique of the ad, saying, "I mean, Clinton's a nice guy, but whoever said he always told the truth?" Then, parodying the former president's denial that he'd had "sexual relations" with intern Monica Lewinsky, Brown said, "I did not have taxes with this state.”

Maybe I'm a sucker for wordplay, but I think that one is worth a couple of rim shots. Granted, Brown isn't running against Clinton, at least not since Gavin Newsom (whom Clinton endorsed) shifted from the governor's race to the lieutenant governor's. Yet candidates' criticisms of one another seem to live forever in this electronic age. Once an attack is played, it'll always be there for future rivals to use in future races (or misuse, as the case may be).

Brown should feel free to smack back at the ghosts of campaigns past. And voters should welcome candidates willing to depart from their scripts and show off a mind lively enough to crack wise.

-- Jon Healey

Photo: Jerry Brown speaks at a Sept. 2 rally in Oakland. Credit: AP Photo / Rich Pedroncelli

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