NEW YORK -- Much is being made in some quarters of the revelation that part of former Gov. Jerry Brown's speech announcing his presidential candidacy last fall came, word for word, from a proposal for a political novel by Patrick Caddell, a sometimes adviser to Brown and other Democrats.
Brown's speech outside Independence Hall in Philadephia rang with lofty phrases about restoring the purposes of the Founding Fathers -- right out of a Caddell character known as "Senator Smith," a fictional candidate who met Caddell's description of a winner in a country that had lost confidence in its political process.
Caddell had shopped his "Senator Smith" around earlier in other contexts, in search of the right candidate to play the part in real life. But this was the first evidence that his words had been part of a book proposal. Brown rival Gov. Bill Clinton seized on the report as confirmation that Brown had "just recreated himself for this campaign," using Caddell's words "so somebody could tell him what he believes in for this election."
It was not a secret that Caddell had helped in the writing of the Brown announcement speech. He was present at the occasion, acknowledging he had given a hand but insisting he was in Philadelphia only as "a friend of Jerry's," not as a political adviser. Now, he and Brown said he had been functioning merely as a speech writer, and certainly Caddell could not be accused of plagiarizing himself.
That defense is a valid one, but it is faintly amusing nonetheless that Brown, the anti-establishment candidate, the loner who boasts to audiences that he is the un-candidate who seeks the Democratic nomination without the trappings and entourage of establishment competitors like Clinton, has one of the most high-powered, controversial political consultants lurking around on his team.
Brown denies that Caddell is really on his team, although he acknowledges that he does talk to him once a week or so, and that Caddell was to be in New York this week, as next Tuesday's New York primary approaches. But Brown insists that his "We the People" campaign of political "insurgency" is his own creation, not Caddell's, and that it is the essentially up-from-the-grass-roots effort he claims it to be.
Caddell was a pollster for George McGovern in 1972 as an undergraduate at Harvard, a pollster and key political adviser for Jimmy Carter before and after Carter entered the White House, and a sometimes insider in the campaigns of Gary Hart, Joe Biden and Walter Mondale. His reputation as a brilliant but often divisive figure inevitably cast him as the Darth Vader of Democratic politics.
When he moved to California a few years back, Caddell swore off politics, but he nevertheless continued to be a parceler of political advice to favored politicians from time to time.
Brown professes to be perplexed over what all the fuss is about. He says a number of people had input into his announcement speech, but that the message was basically his own, and that it is much more so now, now that he has integrated many of his own longtime emphases -- on environmental protection, energy conservation and political reform -- into his message.
Nevertheless, there is so much public suspicion about politicians these days that the search by the news media for candidate behavior that reveals "character" is endless. And as Brown has emerged as one of only two surviving Democratic candidates, it was inevitable that the spotlight that focused so long and so exclusively on Clinton would start swinging from time to time onto Brown.
Clinton up to now has borne the brunt of this journalistic competition, and the fact that the question of who wrote how much of a Brown speech months ago draws attention could be called progress for Brown.
So could the increasing attention to Brown's issue positions. The heavy editorial criticism of his proposal for a flat 13 percent tax to replace all existing taxes poses a much greater, and important, threat to his candidacy than the fact he spoke from "Senator Smith's" script in announcing that candidacy at Independence Hall.