Meg Whitman knocked Jerry Brown all over the place in the last debate in the race to be California’s next governor, but it was Brown’s drawn-out non-apology/apology for the use of the word “whore” which will mark the debate as memorable.
Here’s the Los Angeles Times’ account of the key moment in the entire campaign:
Moderator Tom Brokaw, the former NBC anchorman, told Brown that the word represents, to many women, the same sort of insult that “the N-word” represents to African Americans.
Brown at first said he did not agree with the comparison – a statement that drew an audible reproach from the crowd – and sought to question the timing of the release of the “5-week-old private conversation … with garbled transmission.”
“I will say the campaign apologized promptly and I’m affirming that apology tonight,” he said.
“You’re repeating it to Ms. Whitman?” Brokaw asked.
“Yes, I am,” Brown said. “It’s unfortunate. I’m sorry it happened. I apologize.”
Whitman, however, told Brown that Californians “deserve better than slurs and personal attacks.”
“I think every Californian, and especially women, know exactly what’s going on here and that is a deeply offensive term to women,” she said.
Brown asked Whitman if she had similarly chastised her campaign chairman, former Gov. Pete Wilson, who used the same term in a criticism of Congress.
“You know better than that, Jerry; that is a completely different thing,” she said, a retort that drew another rumble of reaction from the crowd. “The fact that you are defending your campaign for a slur and a personal attack on me – it’s not befitting of California, it’s not befitting of the office that you are running for.”
Brown apologized a third time, and said that the utterance “does not represent anything other than things that happen in campaigns.” But, he pointedly added, Whitman had received police endorsements after exempting safety officials from key parts of her pension reform plan – which he had refused to do.
“You got the endorsement of that union, I didn’t, because they said I’d be too tough on unions and public employee pensions, and I’ll take that,” Brown said.
“I got that endorsement because that union knows that I will be tough on crime,” Whitman replied. “And Jerry Brown has a 40-year record of being soft on crime.”
This is not the year for Jerry Brown to have made the error or to have delayed so long in apologizing for it, and then to make the apology so spectacularly ungracious.
Absentees are out and being cast by the tens of thousands every day. Brown ran into a wall last night and Whitman was poised and tough. This isn’t a hard choice for a state in crisis.