SACRAMENTO -- It was a political speech like no other, delivered by perhaps the one politician who could pull it off.
California's 74-year-old third-term governor filled his State of the State address Thursday with rhetorical flourishes, poetic allusions, biblical stories, historical references -- a tapestry of ideas weaved into a political document meant to set the tone for the Capitol in 2013.
"It was Jerry Brown in his essence in that he offered perspective, a vantage point you don't see from very many governors, if any," said Bill Whalen, who wrote speeches for former Gov. Pete Wilson. "I dare say it might be the most quirky speech ever delivered."
As far as policy points, the governor said little he hasn't said before. He simply spoke the language of Jerry Brown to underscore his priorities of fiscal restraint, education and regulatory reform, and building a bullet train and water system for the future.
Brown tied the biblical story of the pharaoh's dream of preparing for seven years of famine to California's new seven-year temporary tax. He lifted lines from 16th century philosophers and an Irish poet to talk about the importance of education. And he linked the founding of California's missions, discovery of gold and the creation of Google to California's "special destiny" that "never ends."
Brown could pull off such a speech because he's at the highest point of his 2-year-old administration: He won a stunning victory in November when voters approved his Proposition 30, the tax-hike measure that will bring in $6 billion a year, and rewarded him with two-thirds Democratic majorities in the Senate and Assembly. And, with an economy slowly recovering, Brown last week proposed a $97.7 billion deficit-free budget, freeing legislators from making more devastating cuts.
In saluting lawmakers, voters, unions, business leaders and "the whole school community" for backing his campaign for Proposition 30, Brown tapped Oliver Wendell Holmes, the great U.S. Supreme Court justice, for a sentiment on how voters came together: "Feeling begets feeling, and great feeling begets great feeling."
Halfway through his third term and making his 11th State of the State address, Brown spent weeks reading and researching in preparation for his speech, wrote the bulk of it over the weekend and was fine-tuning it as late as Thursday morning, aides said. Brown received lengthy standing ovations before and after his speech from legislators and guests who crowded the Assembly chambers.
"We have wrought in just two years a solid and enduring budget," Brown said. "And, by God, we will persevere and keep it that way for years to come. Against those who take pleasure singing our demise, California did the impossible.'
Though Brown may soon be entangled with his own Democratic Party over the thrust and direction of his plans, he was praised for the tone he set -- and the way he delivered it.
"The governor captured the moment," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. "It was well crafted, lyrical at times, but also substantive. The whole atmosphere is so much more hopeful. His leadership and speech embodies that."
Plenty of politicians have speech writers who can use similar rhetorical tools, said Joseph Tuman, a speech and communications expert at San Francisco State. "But the combination of these elements was just eclectic enough and oddly organized" to make them uniquely Brown's, Tuman said. "If you looked at all the different things he had before the speech, you'd think that's an odd group of things to put together. Not everybody can carry it off. Yet, with Brown, it not only fit together, it reinforced who he is, someone who defies labels, rejects tradition and goes his own way."
The examples and illustrations, rarely used in political speech, was "very Jesuitical," said Barbara O'Connor, director emeritus of Sacramento State's Institute for the Study of Politics and Media. "He was reveling in the fact that people think he's done a good job. But he has the ability to show, without being a showoff, how much he knows and how grounded he is."
Though he credited legislators with making the tough cuts to get through the last two years of huge multibillion dollar deficits, Brown took aim at the proliferation of laws and regulations that he said put a stranglehold on Californians -- and used 16th century French writer Michel de Montaigne to make his point.
"As legislators, it is your duty and privilege to pass laws," he said. "But what we need to do for our future will require more than producing hundreds of new laws each year."
Brown lashed out at the "overly complex, bureaucratically driven and deeply inequitable" education funding system, which he wants to reform so that more money gets to schools with disadvantaged students. And he criticized the "tightly constrained curricula," saying "performance metrics are invoked like talismans.
"Distant authorities crack the whip, demanding quantitative measures and a stark, single number to encapsulate the precise achievement level of every child," he said. "We seem to think that education is a thing -- like a vaccine -- that can be designed from afar and simply injected into our children. But as the Irish poet William Butler Yeats said, 'Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.'"
Some lawmakers criticized Brown for oversimplifying his push for high-speed rail by evoking "The Little Engine That Could."
"That's a children's story, not a business plan or governing principle," said Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine. "We need real solutions to California's transportation issues, not really fast 19th century technology."
In urging caution over spending $6 billion that will come every year from temporary taxes that voters approved in November, Brown repeated the biblical story of the Egyptian pharaoh's dream of seven "fat-fleshed" cows and seven "lean-fleshed" cows, representing seven years of "great plenty" and seven years of famine. The pharaoh took Joseph's advice and stored up enough grain during good years to withstand the famine.
"The people have given us seven years of extra taxes," Brown said. "Let us follow the wisdom of Joseph, pay down our debts and store up reserves against the leaner times that will surely come."
He invoked Franklin Delano Roosevelt's famous "rendezvous with destiny" quote to pivot to California's special place in history, which, he pointed out, started in 1769 when King Charles III issued orders to Jose de Galvez to "occupy and fortify San Diego and Monterey for God and the king of Spain."
But Brown didn't stop there. He described how the expedition went awry and that the "small band of brave men" were "forced to eat the flesh of emaciated pack mules just to stay alive." Father Junipero Serra would later join the expedition.
"The rest is history," he said, "a spectacular history of bold pioneers meeting every failure with even greater success."