It wouldn't be particularly controversial to say Willie Brown is one of the best politicians in America.
And he has some advice for President Obama--keep hitting Romney on the tax return issue, and keep hitting him hard.
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Brown spent three decades in the California State Assembly (half of that time at its helm) and was so entrenched in its power structure that it took the creation of term limits, essentially aimed at Brown personally, to get him out. He followed that with an eight year stint as the mayor of San Francisco, a city whose political machinery he still largely controls despite not having held elected office for nearly a decade.
So when Willie talks politics, people listen. That's precisely what happened when Brown appeared on the Current TV political chat show hosted by his political protege and mayoral successor Gavin Newsom.
"I think the [presidential] debate gives each [candidate] the opportunity force a mistake for the other," said Brown. "I've got to believe that President Obama is looking forward to saying how much taxes he paid in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and how much he will pay in 2012 and he'll turn and say to Mr. Romney, 'What were the taxes you and your lovely lady paid in those same years?' That could be a defining moment because, for some reason, if Romney stumbles on that, it would be totally over for him."
"That's the one thing you cannot do, you cannot fail to pay your taxes and you cannot fail to vote. Those are both permanent disqualifying features in any campaign, " Brown continued. "At least, that's what I've learned in the 300 or so campaigns I've done in the past 40 years. I've lost the ones where the guy didn't vote or didn't pay his taxes...you're considered a cheat by ordinary voters no matter how rich they are."
Even so, Brown has made prognostications about Obama before that haven't yet come true. Last year, he predicted that the president would replace Joe Biden with a new vice presidential nominee such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, something the Obama camp has steadfastly said isn't a possibility.
Brown has also been critical of the president's reelection effort, wring in his weekly San Francisco Chronicle column this spring that the president's campaign had "lost it's mojo" and put it in terms that his fellow San Franciscans could understand:
Obama was more than a candidate last time out. He was a popular and cultural phenomenon. A rock star. But the trouble with rock stars is that they drop like a rock once fans conclude they are "over."
The trick in politics is not to be a one-hit wonder, but to be more like the Grateful Dead. Jerry and the boys were never what you'd call stars, but their Deadheads were legion and good days or bad, they always turned out in record numbers.
When Brown's conversation with Newsom turned to the topic of the upcoming Democratic and Republican conventions, the veteran pol wasn't particularly enthusiastic.
"I've been to every convention since 1960...[and] all of it is now fixed and packaged," he said with a laugh. "So much so that in a horrible place like Charlotte, I'm not going. I'm all booked and that stuff to go but I'm not going. If you're stuck in Charlotte, where do you eat?"
"They surely serve some purpose," Newsom interjected.
"No, not anymore. There's no mystery," Brown explained. "There's nothing about these conventions that means anything. It's a television show that's not nearly as good as the Olympics...It's a reality show from that standpoint, but it's boring...It would be better if [the Republican] convention had Sarah Palin, at least she'd be entertaining."
The full interview is set to air on Current TV this Friday at 10 p.m. Pacific, 1 a.m. Eastern.