Clinton and Jordan: Great Jerks

Bill Clinton is joining Gavin Newsom’s campaign for governor of California in what Michael Finnegan argues is payback for Jerry Brown’s snub way back in 1992.

clinton-brown-1992Seventeen years after fellow Democrats Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown clashed in the 1992 race for the White House, the former president made clear today that bygones will not be bygones in the 2010 campaign for California governor: Clinton signed on today to support Brown rival Gavin Newsom in the Democratic primary next year. Newsom is the current mayor of San Francisco.

It is highly unusual — perhaps unprecedented, according to the mayor’s campaign — for a former president to take sides in a California gubernatorial primary. Sitting chief executives and former ones usually like to wait for the intraparty bleeding to stop before endorsing.


Tensions in the 1992 race for the Democratic presidential nomination peaked at a debate in Chicago, where Brown accused Clinton of “funneling money to his wife’s law firm for state business.” That set off Clinton. “I don’t care what you say about me, but you ought to be ashamed of yourself for jumping on my wife,” he snapped, shaking his finger at Brown. “You’re not worth being on the same platform as my wife.”

I’m reminded of this weekend’s hubbub around Michael Jordan’s decidedly ungracious Hall of Fame induction speech, which he used to vent every slight, real or imagined, he’d suffered since high school.   One would think winning would be vindication enough to salve those old wounds but, for Clinton and Jordan, it apparently isn’t.  Michael Wilbon has the best line on that one:

My reaction was to be surprised at the reaction of people who were so stunned. What did they think separated Jordan from merely great athletes? Almost certainly it was the controlled rage with which he played every single night of his life and probably 90 percent of the practices in which he participated. A less ruthless Jordan would have been, well, Clyde Drexler.

Now, Drexler was a great, great player.  But he’s not one of four or five people in the discussion for greatest baller of all time.  Jordan is — usually as the favorite.

I’ve never been more than a casual fan of basketball, and have followed great players rather than picking a team.  I gravitated towards Julius “Dr. J” Irving toward the end of his career, then Larry Bird, and then Jordan.  And, really, nobody since. (I appreciate LeBron James’ gifts but have less sports-watching time these days.)   Despite being clean cut, articulate, and funny, Jordan frequently displayed a jerkish quality, even — perhaps especially — to his teammates.

Conversely, I was never a fan of Bill Clinton’s, seeing in him a snake oil salesman quality long before the Monica Lewinsky scandal.  But one can’t be a political junkie and not admire his talents.  And, certainly, his up-from-nothing story, elected as the youngest governor in the country at 32 and president at 46,  is simply remarkable.

It’s possible that a less ruthless Clinton would have been, well, Jerry Brown.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. hcantrall says:

    Wasn’t Jerry Brown already the governor of Cali? I could have sworn he was when I was a kid. I could look it up but I’m lazy and I know someone who posts here knows =)

  2. kvc says:

    Yes, Brown has already been the Gov. But, my question what happened to Linda Ronstadt?

  3. kvc says:

    Oh yeah, Clinton will turn the snakes loose on you and then try to sell you the oil.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Wasn’t Jerry Brown already the governor of Cali? I could have sworn he was when I was a kid.

    He was governor from 1975-1983 and seemed destined to be a political rock star. Not only was he, as kvc alludes to above, dating Linda Ronstadt but he was the Bill Clinton of his day, very smart and affable and governor at a young age (33). But he lost his three bids for the Democratic presidential nomination (1976, 1980, and 1992) and wound up as mayor of Oakland (1998-2006) and AG (2007-present). A rather odd trajectory.

  5. hcantrall says:

    I think I only vaguely remember him because my father hated the man and everytime he was on tv my dad would go off lol

  6. Crust says:

    Interesting angle, never thought of it this way. In life, I’ve often seen ruthlessness come back to bite people, but perhaps politics and basketball are different.

  7. Brian Knapp says:

    Reminds me of a quote about the difference between ruthless and not:

    Willie Banks: This town might have changed, but not me. I know people highly invested in my survival, and they are people who really know how to hurt in ways you can’t even imagine.

    Danny Ocean: Well, I know all the guys that you’d hire to come after me, and they like me better than you.

    Ocean’s 13