Jerry Brown Goebbels Comparison

Concerned over Meg Whitman’s ability to use her enormous personal wealth to flood the market with advertising to beat him in the California gubernatorial race, Jerry Brown likened her to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

Brown boasted about his legendary frugality. “I’ve only spent $200,000 so far. I have 20 million in the bank. I’m saving up for her.” It’s true — his stay-on-the-sidelines, bare-bones primary run cost him almost nothing, at least in California political terms. But he also fretted about the impact of all those eBay dollars in Whitman’s very deep pockets. “You know, by the time she’s done with me, two months from now, I’ll be a child-molesting…” He let the line trail off. “She’ll have people believing whatever she wants about me.” Then he went off on a riff I didn’t expect.

“It’s like Goebbels,” referring to Hitler’s notorious Minister of Propaganda. “Goebbels invented this kind of propaganda. He took control of the whole world. She wants to be president. That’s her ambition, the first woman president. That’s what this is all about.”

Alternate accounts have this conversation taking place on a “bike ride” or a “jog” with KCBS radio reporter Doug Sovern.     Regardless, the Whitman campaign is naturally milking this for what it’s worth, saying,  “Jerry Brown’s statements comparing our campaign to a propagator of the Holocaust is deeply offensive and entirely unacceptable.”

This is a really silly thing for a seasoned politician like Brown to say.   The backlash — and, ironically, propaganda value — is entirely predictable.  Because the Nazi regime was so reprehensible, any comparison with an opponent in a democratic election is deemed beyond the pale.  Godwin’s Law and all that.

But should it be?  There are more artful ways of saying this, and Brown should have chosen one.   But, certainly, “Goebbels” is a very effective shorthand.

Brown isn’t insinuating that Whitman is evil or like Goebbels in any way other than the ability to dominate the media in a way to make people believe things that aren’t true.   And Goebbels did essentially invent the concept of propaganda and, particularly, the “Big Lie” technique of flooding the zone with false information, repeating it so often that people come to believe it.   And it’s at least arguable that Whitman, who has already spent $71 million just to win the Republican primary, will have the ability to frame Brown’s record pretty much any way she wants.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Mike Hassinger says:

    Another propaganda technique used by Goebbels? Poisoning the well. Kind of like Jerry Brown did with that statement.

  2. steve says:

    Dumb on Brown’s part, but technically accurate as you note. If Whitman wins, expect to see more of the wealthy run. The extreme income inequality in our country has created a lot of super wealthy people with lots of time on their hands and huge egos. Perfect recipe for creating a politician.

    Steve

  3. James Joyner says:

    Another propaganda technique used by Goebbels? Poisoning the well. Kind of like Jerry Brown did with that statement.

    I think it’s a stretch to call this poisoning the well.

  4. Michael Powell says:

    This could very well be the sound of a man who isn’t interested enough in winning the California governorship to mince his words carefully. In any case, that seems like a recipe for a Whitman win.

  5. Clovis says:

    And it’s at least arguable that Whitman, who has already spent $71 million just to win the Republican primary, will have the ability to frame Brown’s record pretty much any way she wants.

    And it is inarguable that Whitman has shown no desire to paint Brown as a child molester. Paraphrasing the Moonbeam: “That evil Nazi Ho-Beast is going to call me a chicken-f**ker, and it’s not like I did anything at all to deserve having things made up about me.”

    He is ascribing future actions and intentions to her, then likening her to Goebbels. Might not be poisoning the well but it is a straw-Nazi of legendary proportions. He needs to be asked exactly what, on Whitman’s part, caused him to develop this bizarre concept.

    Plus, it’s not like Californians have anything against child molesters if the court response to Polanski (and H-wood protest letter) is any indication.

  6. What I don’t get is the idea of spending tens of millions of dollars for THAT job. The California political system is broken due to voter referenda and a 2/3 budget requirement. That’s heartache I wouldn’t need if I were that rich. I’d be on a beach somewhere with naked girls and the like.