Well before the coup de grace of the Wisconsin primary, Jerry Brown was being omitted from nationally published comparisons of candidates' stands on the issues. Yet he raised or freshly considered issues that the nation -- and each individual -- will have to evaluate sooner or later on the way toward the future which often seemed his prime campaign territory. They can be evaluated more dispassionately separate from the politicking and the eccentric Brown image.
In essence he reminded Americans that greatness begins at home. America's strenght in the world depends on restoring its strength within its own borders in the face of change on many fronts -- social, economic, technological. The basic Brown recipe was to husband the Earth's present bounty through simplified living and to use the technological genius of America to reach toward the new frontiers of space while increasing productivity here below.
In this mixture a zeal for good old-fashioned balancing of the federal budget , through constitutional convention if necessary, could live with the most experimental ideas on other matters. To take but one example of the latter, he advocated not the kind of national health insurance promised by Carter and Kennedy but incentives for people to take care of themselves, for doctors not to undertake unnecessary surgery. In this he was in line with what researchers in the Worldwatch Institute, for instance, see as the way health care is going to develop around the globe.
Governor Brown summed up his principles as to "protect the earth, serve the people, and explore the universe." He called Americans to find new liberty in sacrifice, in limiting their use of the world's resources. There was only one way for Americans to control OPEC, he said, and that was to control themselves. The specifics rising from his principles included the severest opposition to nuclear power among the presidential candidates and the strongest push for alternative energy sources. The League of Conservation Voters, which backed Jimmy Carter in 1976, ranked Brown as the top Democrat on environmental issues.
Government appointments was another issue Brown stressed. He saw a wide range of appointments cutting across ethnic and sex lines as an important expression of governmental openness. He has made so many of these in California that they ceased having simply symbolic importance. His office has given access to a new of interest groups -- consumers, minorities, women, conservationists.
The question is how much influence such a constituency represents in the year to come, how much the Brown approach represents practical grappling with the future or visionary toying with it. His absence from the presidential race does not mean that Americans can avoid coming to some conclusions on such matters.