Commentary: Bill Clinton ad is a setback for Brown

It began with a television ad by Meg Whitman, the Republican candidate for governor, hammering Democratic rival Jerry Brown with a video clip from Brown's 1992 presidential nomination duel with Bill Clinton.

In the video, Clinton hits Brown, to wit: "CNN. Not me, CNN says his assertion about his tax record was, quote, just plain wrong. He raised taxes as governor of California. He doesn't tell the people the truth."

It's effective because it's not Whitman whomping on Brown but Clinton, a popular political figure, and CNN, a reputable news organization.

Brown's camp, which had been touting his tax reductions, cried foul. And former CNN reporter Brooks Jackson recanted, saying, "I was wrong when I said that 'state taxes were still higher' during his last year than when he began. In fact, they were a bit lower."

Brown redoubled his demand that the ad be dumped, but Whitman's campaign issued its own data proving, it said, that taxes, as a percentage of income, were relatively high under Brown. Even were that claim or the original CNN report accurate, it's meaningless. Taxes as a share of income fluctuate fractionally all the time, mostly because incomes change.

In fact, Brown shouldn't be faulted for raising taxes (he didn't) but for boasting about tax cuts. He irresponsibly slashed income taxes in 1978 just as the state assumed huge financial burdens after passage of Proposition 13. That purely political act (Brown was seeking re-election) sowed the seeds of chronic budget deficits ever since.

To read the complete column, visit www.sacbee.com.