OAKLAND, Calif. – Mayor Jerry Brown (search), two-time governor, three-time presidential candidate and longtime spiritual scholar, has gone where relatively few politicians dare: The one-on-one, warts-and-all world of the personal Web log.
His entries so far have included a vigorous defense of his idea for parolee curfews, a thoughtful reminiscence of the late Hunter S. Thompson (search) and a lively, ringside-seat account of state's Democratic convention. ("Day Two of the convention, and it's a real bash -- on the Governor.")
Also posted are hundreds of words of feedback, both celebratory and scathing -- the kind of direct interaction with the body politic that many politicians rarely experience.
"This is what I would call independent thinking," Brown said in a recent interview about his new pastime.
It's the rare politician these days who doesn't have some Web presence, but they're only recently getting into blogs after watching Howard Dean (search) use the Internet as a way to blast through the MSM (mainstream media) filter and communicate directly with voters.
"Everyone who has something interesting to say cannot afford not to be saying it in a blog as well," said Sreenath Sreenivasan, a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism who follows the blogosphere.
The politblog vanguard includes North Dakota, where five senators began blogging recently on The Bismarck Tribune's legislative Web site, and Minnesota, where several state legislators maintain personal blogs, including state Rep. Ray Cox, considered by the Pew project to be the first major politician to blog. A recent Cox entry detailed his ride to work, complete with digital photos.
Still, relatively few politicians are opting to cast aside the safety net of canned press releases and blue-penciling aides.
Who better to lead them than Brown? Once satirically dubbed Gov. Moonbeam for his futuristic thinking, he's studied classics at Berkeley and law at Yale, meditated with a Zen master in Tokyo and helped Mother Teresa care for India's dying, seemingly following his own muse throughout his life.
"Jerry Brown has always been willing to put his personality forward without worrying about having to round it off," said Michael Cornfield, senior research consultant to the Pew Internet & American Life Project (search) and author of "Politics Moves Online."
Brown's had a Web page for years; he got the idea of starting a blog from a tech-minded friend who advised him to push his online presence "into the 21st century."
Bloggers, as Brown discovered and wrote in an early posting, "are a force."
But politicians, as a species, tend to be anything but freewheeling.
"To be a blogger means to be able to communicate with passion and to communicate with a personal voice and some politicians are not comfortable with that," said Cornfield. Upside? "A politician can use a blog to speak in a normal tone of voice and act like a real human being."
Downside: "You say something that rubs somebody the wrong way."
Some politicians' blogs have the smack of a canned release; others are little more than a string of repostings of other writers. Which leads to a commonly asked question of politblogs: Is the politician really writing it?
The question stings for Brown. He says he got some technical help, but the words are his.
"Can't you tell?" he asks. "This is my stuff. I write."
True enough, his entries are stocked with typically erudite eruptions, such as "torrid animadversions" -- Brown's way of saying "heated criticism."
Brown has been a perceptive but not prolific poster. Aides blame his busy schedule, which includes preparing for a run at attorney general next year as well as his upcoming marriage to longtime girlfriend Anne Gust, who recently quit her job as an executive at Gap Inc.
Reactions posted on the blog range from hearty endorsement to rude put-down.
"Some people get pretty excited," Brown said with a chuckle. "In every blog there's a range of comments from the extreme to the thoughtful. It's a living research process."
Really extreme comments won't be posted; "there's a few trolls out there," Brown said, but a lot of quite critical responses do make it in.
"Get real, Jerry," wrote one. "Remember when you were hanging with the Black Panthers and talking about justice? WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU?"
Others are more encouraging: "It's great that you're blogging. Another in a series of innovative moves."
And some are downright friendly: "I am also diggin' the photo," wrote one admirer about the blog's mugshot of Brown, a stark reminder that the floppy brown hair he sported as governor went the way of disco. "Very Kojak, very sexy."
Are more politicians likely to hear the call of the blog?
Cornfield thinks so.
"I can't imagine that at some point we won't see someone who is to the Internet what JFK was to television and FDR was to radio," he said. "And whoever that person is, he or she is going to have a blog."