Gov. Brown extols the Byzantine in Brussels

Reporters covering Jerry Brown should get college credit.

The governor regularly quotes Virgil, lapses into Latin, expounds on obscure historical figures and quotes from books he’s read. It’s difficult to keep up.

Yes, Brown is an anomaly among politicians. That’s part of his appeal as he rambles through Europe discussing climate change.

At every stop someone remarks to him: “You are so straightforward,” or, “You have been very clear, thank you,” or, after an especially forceful Brown table-thumping about our frying planet, “Thank you,” gulp, “for your honesty.”

From a nation that perfected the slick political operative, Brown comes across as the anti-politician. He doesn’t smile. You know he’s thinking when his eyebrows collide and he begins to frown. He hasn’t been looking questioners in the eye much here, instead busying himself jotting notes. He wears nice suits, slightly rumpled. His pocket square often droops and slips out of sight by the end of the day.

From the Vatican to the European Parliament to countless meetings with political and cultural leaders, the governor has been greeted as an oracle. Thursday’s event, a forum on climate issues, was in Brussels, hosted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, an American think tank.

Brown pleaded for action in the fight against a warming world, as he has just about every day on this trip. Answering wide-ranging and thoughtful questions, he pulled in references from economic theory, current international events and the latest thinking on the nuclear threat.

At a press conference with European correspondents afterward, Brown snatched a reporter’s notebook and sketched out Cartesian coordinates—an X-Y axis graph—to make a point. He held it up to show those in the back. Something about closing the gap between the Power Curve and the Wisdom Curve. He went on, the reporters mostly nodding vacantly.

One correspondent asked: You’ve said you don’t have the patience for bureaucracy, and here we are at the seat of the European Parliament, the most complex bureaucracy the world has ever known. Is the world governance structure adequate to dealing with the complexities of climate change?

That unleashed an exposition on the Byzantine Empire.

“Bureaucracy is better than war,” Brown said, leaning forward, jabbing a forefinger into the conference table. “Don’t get bogged don’t on these abstruse processes. That’s better than exchanging bullets.

“Climate change is complex,” he went on. “Dealing with it through this Byzantine system you Europeans have created—I don’t have an answer other than the Byzantine Empire lasted longer than almost any other empire, and had a stable currency longer.

“So don’t put down Byzantine structures. They have a good historical track record.”

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