Not long ago, Jerry Brown listened to an old presidential debate between himself and Bill Clinton.
"It was very acrimonious," Brown said on Thursday. "I landed some very good punches and so did he."
Brown said that's now "ancient history" -- though Brown's recent remark alluding to the Monica Lewinsky scandal suggests it's not buried too deeply. Anyway, both seemed only too happy to leave the past alone on Friday, as Clinton headlined a rally at UCLA to boost Brown's campaign.
First, just consider the wattage of egos assembled on one stage: Antonio Villaraigosa, Gavin Newsom, Jerry Brown and Bill Clinton. Second, ask yourself which one of those four is least like the other three. The answer is Brown. The others just want to be loved. Brown wants to be Aristotle.
Brown started out by practically inviting the crowd to meditate -- "Let's all take a deep breath. Relax." -- before announcing, in response to a pointed suggestion from Gavin Newsom, that he has no plans to retire and write a memoir.
"If I said all the interesting stuff, I couldn't keep running for office," he said, and Newsom's probably thinking that would be a real shame. "And I don't want to write all the dull stuff."
Brown is 72, and left the governor's office 10 years before these college students were born. So he's looking for a way to relate.
"When I went to UC I got my degree in Latin and Greek," Brown said, clearly striking a chord with the millennial generation. "So I may not know how to count too well, but I know about Latins and Greeks. I know about a lot of obscure stuff."
We'll grant you that, but where is this going exactly?
"If you want to read Meg Whitman's economic plan, you have to be able to get into some pretty obscure stuff. Because it's not there. It's smoke and mirrors."
Nice save. It went on like that, but Brown knew the star of the evening was Clinton, so he promptly turned over the podium.
Clinton was his vintage self, which is to say that he held the crowd in rapt attention while rattling off reams of statistics and policy wonkery in his homespun way.
"I can tell you Tea Party stories till the cows come home, but I want to talk about your future," Clinton said. "This is not about taking cheap shots. This is a conflict of ideas... Everybody that's running for something has achieved something in life. The question is who is more likely to give the same chance to everybody else."
Clinton did not mention Meg Whitman by name, but he did pick up the Brown campaign's attack on her proposal to eliminate the capital gains tax.
"Even if you think it's a good idea to repeal the capital gains tax, why in God's name would you do it now when you can't pay the education costs you have," he said. "That's choosing the present over the future."
Clinton also touched on Whitman's position on California's climate change law, AB 32 -- "against it before she was for it and now I can't figure out where she is" -- and her plan to eliminate 40,000 state government positions.
Mostly, though, Clinton talked about the economy and what that means for Democrats in the mid-terms. He said he had asked Newsom and Brown for permission to put their races in the national context, and you wonder why they agreed. After all, Newsom and Brown are leading in the polls while everywhere else, Democrats are getting killed. But anyway, Clinton has a stump speech and he was going to give it.
"We've got an electorate that is motivated, they say, the experts, by anger on the right, apathy on the left and amnesia all around, and they say 'Oh this is going to be a terrible election,'" he said. "And my gut is it won't be if people are thinking."
There's that Clinton optimism. This is what prompts people to compare him to Ronald Reagan. And there it was again in the big finish.
"We gotta get through this very tough spot," Clinton said. "As horrible as this is, if we learn the right lessons from it, when we come out of it we will be stronger than ever, ready for the 21st century, ready for your future."