Where Political Principles Are
September 3 2003
"Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive," wrote Wordsworth on the Fall of
the Bastille, "But to be young was very heaven."
So it was, long ago, when a young generation of conservatives rose up to
declare they would rather go down to defeat with Barry Goldwater than
win with Nelson Rockefeller. And lose we did.
But out of the fiery furnace came a movement. Sixteen years later, it
would nominate Ronald Reagan, who would win a 44-state landslide, go to
Washington as president and win the Cold War, the great cause of 1960s
conservatism. Contrast that principled conservatism with the crass
politics of the California recall.
It began as a populist crusade. Defying the White House and the state
Republican establishment, grass-roots conservatives – with the financial
aid of Rep. Darryl Issa – forced the recall election of Gov. Gray Davis.
But when they succeeded, Arnold Schwarzenegger, coming off the success
of "Terminator III," declared for governor and vaulted into the lead.
The stampede to endorse was on, with George Schulz, Pete Wilson, Rob
Lowe and Warren Buffett being enthusiastically joined by conservatives
David Dreier, Dana Rohrbacher and Chris Cox.
But by calling on Republicans to vote for Arnold – not the men of
principle, Bill Simon or Tom McClintock – who were the conservatives
endorsing? A sybarite who backs abortion on demand, homosexual unions
and gun control, and thought the impeachment of Clinton a GOP atrocity.
All that is irrelevant, say the pragmatic conservatives. We are
endorsing Arnold because he can deal with a $38 billion deficit.
But how is Arnold qualified to deal with a fiscal crisis? In 2002, he
campaigned for after-school programs that would add half a billion
dollars to spending. Nor has Arnold ruled out tax increases to balance
the budget. He opened his campaign by talking of bringing business back,
so business could pay the taxes needed to create new state programs.
Conclusion? California conservatives have rallied to Arnold for one
reason: They think he is a winner, and they have put their principles on
Now, there is no denying that the first objective of a political cause
is the winning of power. Without power, even the best of causes cannot
prevail. But without principles on which a man will stand or fall,
without convictions, without ideas and ideals, without an agenda, the
pursuit of power becomes naked ambition, and politics becomes but a
question of us, not them, with no more moral content than the NFL.
Politics then ceases to be a solemn duty of citizenship and becomes a
spectator sport, a game, a diversion.
Men and women of convictions will inevitably turn their backs on such a
politics, cease voting and secede from the system. That is what is
happening in America.
Yet, the conservatives who endorsed Arnold over McClintock, a state
senator who nearly won in the Democratic sweep of 2002, now face the
risk that is always inherent in putting power before principle – the
risk of not getting paid after you have sold out.
If Arnold wins and goes on to govern as Pete Wilson II, how do they
explain themselves? If Arnold does not win, how do they then explain why
they supported a man whose views on social, moral and cultural issues
are straight out of Hollywood Confidential?
The argument for pragmatism is that it works. But if pragmatism fails to
deliver, then the pragmatist looks like the girl who turns tramp but
fails to get paid because her millionaire customer turned out to be a
phony and a fake. She is not only a tramp, but a stupid one.
As for the California Democrats, they are shameless. First, they decried
the recall as an attempt to steal the governorship of California, even
as the GOP tried to steal the presidency from Clinton and stole the
White House from Al. Then, after seeing Arnold soar, Democrats decided
they needed a fallback position, in case their spin did not work.
So they agreed to put Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante on the ballot, and clear
the other Democrats off. The party position can now be stated thus:
"This recall is a rotten right-wing power grab. Stand by Gray! Don't let
them steal the governorship! However, if you feel Gray should be thrown
to the wolves, go ahead and toss him to the wolves. But be sure, then,
to vote for Cruz – so our gang can stay in power."
The California recall is a wonderful and instructive story. It shows
politics at its principled best, and its pragmatic worst. In it, we see
both the decency and determination of populist rebellion, and the
unseemliness and squalor of the naked pursuit of power.
© 2003 Creators
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