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What We Talk About When We Talk About Loss

Nov
10
2005

Arnold Schwarzenegger is the walking dead. He carried out his threat to take his case directly to the people — and the people rejected him. The Democratic power-structure throughout California called his bluff and showed that they own the public discourse. Why? Partly it’s because they’re something that California Republicans are not: a coherent party with a definable philosophy of governance. Admittedly, that philosophy is a combination of venality, ethnic baiting, and socialism — but it’s a sight more than their partisan counterparts can claim.

In asserting this, let’s differentiate between California Republicans and California conservatives. Conventional wisdom to the contrary, there are plenty of the latter — and when you factor in socially conservative immigrants, entrepreneurs, and suburban families, there’s the potential for many more. But absent vigorous leadership to remove the stigmatizing pall that has fallen across conservatism in “blue” coastal and urban California, that potential will never be realized. Worse, existing conservatives will drift away from the very mechanism of their political power. Indeed, we see in the right’s shrunken Tuesday turnout evidence that this has already begun.

As we saw in the Miers debacle, the national GOP’s function as the partisan vehicle of American conservatism is by no means a sure thing. But the President, at least, eventually recognized that the party needs conservatives. Contrast with Governor Schwarzenegger, who has more or less abandoned California conservatives wholesale. He is a leftist on the environment. He is a leftist on life issues. And he resolutely refuses to empower, appoint, or consistently consult with California conservatives in the course of his governance. The inevitable result is Tuesday’s debacle.

Look no further than Proposition 73 for evidence. Prop 73 would have mandated parental consent for abortions in minors. Of all the propositions, 73 failed by the smallest relative margin — barely 5% of total votes cast. Now, let’s note two things about this best-performing, barely-failing proposition:

  • It was a social conservative proposition.

  • The Governor failed to endorse or campaign for it.
  • It’s not too much to say that had Arnold Schwarzenegger motivated himself to do the right thing, govern as at least a nominal conservative, and govern as at least as a nominal Republican, Proposition 73 would be California law today. It would have taken so tragically little to put it over the top. Had 73 passed — and had those same conservatives felt compelled to come out for a Governor on their side — it’s not too much to imagine that Proposition 75 would also be law. And thus the financial power base of the California Democrats, built on an edifice of coerced dues from coerced union workers, would be smashed. We truly would have had a different California on Wednesday morning.

    It is not to be. All we can do is dream of what might have been. This is the bitter fruit of the shunning of conservatives in pursuit of an illusory “moderation,” spurred by an overpowering belief in self. (And no, depressed conservative turnout isn’t evidence of “moderation” — it’s just evidence that conservatives didn’t see anything to vote for.) This is the ineluctable end when the leadership kicks the base in the shins.

    Conservatives remain in California. Conservatives retain power in the California grassroots. The strength of the pro-73 vote demonstrates that clearly enough. But without a Republican party to give substance to their principles, both they and that party will continue their long march into irrelevance. Conservatism will become a feature of small towns in the Inland Empire and hamlets of elderly couples in Riverside county. It won’t be something inevitable, it won’t be a function of demographics, and it won’t be a reflection of the superior appeal of their foes. It will be entirely self-inflicted. And it will be done in the name of “moderation.”

    Share  Posted by Josh Trevino at 6:54 AM | Permalink

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