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Carol Platt Liebau - Columnist

Carol Platt Liebau is a senior member of the editorial board. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review.


Trumping the Race Card
Republicans Can’t Let Democrats Win the “Race” to the Bottom
[Carol Platt Liebau] 8/18/03

The most recent Field poll purporting to show support for Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante running three points ahead of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the governor’s race – and the media’s breathless reporting of it –calls vividly to mind the well-known quotation by author O. Henry: “A straw vote only shows which way the hot air blows.”

The poll, crippled by a small sample and at odds with other reliable measures of public support, is most likely wrong. But its significance lies less in its inaccuracy than in its implications for the upcoming recall election. The Field poll has probably put the last nail in the coffin of Governor Gray Davis’ political career. The increased public support for Cruz Bustamante will convince California Democrats that they have a better chance of helping him reach a 42% plurality (the probable threshold for victory) than persuading 51% of voters to retain the governor. Accordingly, Davis will be left for (politically) dead -- the focus will shift from the recall itself to the campaign for a new governor.

But for Democrats, here’s the rub: Bustamante is by no means a dream candidate. Indeed, he bears an unfortunate resemblance to the cartoon character “Wimpy” of “Popeye” fame – the mild-mannered man who continually promises, “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” (a phrase, incidentally, that seems to sum up Bustamante’s economic philosophy, or at least what we know of it). And the lieutenant governor’s political career has been strikingly nondescript, except for two damaging episodes: his inadvertent use of a racial slur while addressing the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists in February of 2001, and his widely-reported attempt to slip out the back door of his office to avoid dealing with a contentious budget issue when he was serving as Assembly Speaker.

Given their candidate’s deficiencies, it’s unlikely that Democrats will see many more polls showing Bustamante in the lead once Californians have become better acquainted with him. And when Arnold Schwarzenegger begins to pull ahead consistently in the polls, Democrats will confront the reality that their best chance of winning rests on their ability to turn out a large Latino vote against the Republican frontrunner. As Democratic desperation grows, it will be readily identifiable through one clear measure – the frequency and ferocity of Democratic attempts to play the “race card.”

The liberal racialist attack is likely to center around two different California propositions: Prop. 187, the 1994 measure that would have denied public benefits to illegal immigrants, and Prop. 54, the Racial Privacy Initiative, which will appear on this year’s recall ballot.

Since 1994, Democrats have profited handsomely from Prop. 187 – mostly by parroting the canard that the measure was a malicious, anti-Latino Republican plot (which doesn’t explain why Steve Peace, Davis’ Director of Finance, was one of its most ardent supporters). Trying to portray Schwarzenegger as a bigot, Democrats have already pointed out that he voted for the measure. Democrats will likewise attempt to use the Racial Privacy Initiative – which would prevent the state from gathering information on race and ethnicity except for medical and law-enforcement purposes – against Arnold and the Republicans. In an effort to boost Latino turnout, they will attempt to stimulate outrage by arguing (inaccurately) that Prop. 54 represents a deliberate attempt to breed indifference to racial injustices that all fair-minded people would certainly oppose.

Resort to the race card always creates an ugly campaign. But when these attacks take place – and they will – Arnold and the Republicans cannot hide from them. The Democratic slanders must be answered with strong and confident responses, because silence, equivocation or stumbling by Republicans will suggest to minorities across the state that the Democratic attacks have merit.

As a legal immigrant and American citizen, Arnold could do himself AND California Republicans a great service by setting the record straight and explaining that Prop. 187 was not anti-immigrant (Latino or otherwise). Rather, it was anti-illegal immigrant.

Although the proposition was misguided in some particulars (and arguably in conflict with federal law), its supporters justifiably believed that law-abiding, hard-working American citizens – including new Latino, Asian, and Austrian citizens – shouldn’t have to subsidize those who decide to avail themselves of American benefits without pledging their allegiance to the United States or abiding by its laws.

Nor can Arnold hide from the Racial Privacy Initiative (RPI), and he shouldn’t. The RPI is all about meritocracy – just as Arnold’s career has been. People of good will can quibble about the particulars of the RPI and its exemptions as the proposition is currently drafted – but surely every Republican can agree that its aim is admirable, insofar as it aspires to hasten the day when the California government treats its citizens as individuals, not simply as members of racial or ethnic groups.

For far too long, California Republicans have wilted like scared bunnies in the face of divisive, race-mongering attacks by the Democrats. It’s time to trump the race card. Republicans need not be shy in underscoring the inconsistencies in the Democratic opposition to Props. 187 and 54. Let’s point out that the Democrats want to emphasize the differences that shouldn’t matter to any of us – our race and ethnicity – while devaluing and ignoring the one distinction that should be significant to all Americans – the fact of U.S. citizenship.

But perhaps, in the end, the Democrats are more to be pitied than blamed. There’s something pathetic about a party so desperate to remain in power that it would resort to pitting Californians of different backgrounds against one another. It’s up to us, the Republicans, to remind the citizens of the Golden State that the things that unite us – like our love for our state and country, and our desire for a better life for all Californians – are much greater and more powerful than any of our divisions. It is the truth . . . and it’s the road to victory the “right” way, in every sense of the word.

CRO columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA.


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