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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, MSNBC, 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.


Running to Win
The Recall and Republican Redemption  
[Carol Platt Liebau] 8/25/03   

Last weekend offered a long-awaited opportunity to see the film about the famous race horse, Seabiscuit, that was released earlier this summer. The movie is wonderful. It’s a tale about redemption through focus, self-knowledge and – above all – the grace that causes all things, even apparent misfortune, ultimately to work together for good.

In some ways, politics is a lot like horseracing. Honest people, as the saying goes, pay their money and take their chance. There are never any guarantees, and the outcome of every race depends on so many factors that it is virtually impossible to exercise complete control over anything. All that any politician, voter (or horse) can do is to prepare, so as to be ready when the make-or-break moment of decision arrives, as it inevitably will.

As the recall season rolls on, there will be several more weeks like the one just past – with news changing so constantly that it’s hard even to formulate any consistent analysis. Multiple polls are released, some containing unsettling news, such as the weekend’s Los Angeles Times poll that purportedly shows a significant narrowing in the margin of voters favoring the governor’s recall (50% to 45%, compared to last week’s Public Policy Institute poll, which showed 58% in favor, 36% opposed),

In any race, discomfiting poll numbers occasionally appear, but careful examination of the poll reveals that there is no reason for undue Republican concern. The Times poll demonstrates that a disproportionate number of Republicans, presumably anti-Davis, are likely to actually vote in the election. In short, Republicans are the more intense, motivated voting bloc – a key component of electoral success.

But it’s important that Republicans maintain their focus, and it should rest squarely on a vision for California – an indispensable part of any campaign, but one that both Davis and Bustamante lack. As his speech at UCLA last week made abundantly clear, Gray Davis’ only objective for California is to remain in charge of it. When he criticizes Arnold for his lack of specifics, perhaps Davis should share his prescription for California’s economic recovery – because we still haven’t heard one even though, as he frequently points out, he’s currently the governor.

Nor does Bustamante’s plan consist of anything more visionary than the same old failed liberal policies. Last week, he unveiled an economic plan called “Tough Love for California.” Among other proposals, Cruz wants to amend Proposition 13 in order to raise taxes on commercial property (exactly what struggling California businesses need), and also to increase income taxes so that the “wealthy” will pay their “fair share” (it would be interesting to know exactly what percentage Bustamante would consider a “fair share” to be). If that plan’s “tough love,” then Cruz is a sadist – and the Californians who support it are nothing if not masochists.

But even as they focus on a vision for the state, Republicans must likewise resist the impulse to panic at the Times’ report that Bustamante leads the field in the race to serve as Davis’ replacement by an impressive 13-point margin. After all, the combined percentage of voters supporting a Republican (whether Schwarzenegger, McClintock, Ueberroth, or Simon before his withdrawal) is significantly greater than the number currently supporting Bustamante.

But bearing these facts in mind, Republicans need to engage in some serious self-examination. That the level of support for Republican candidates overall exceeds that for Democrats reinforces the importance of narrowing the Republican field. Although Sacramento Bee political reporter Daniel Weinstraub suggests in his excellent weblog that “forcing” his competition to drop out would make Arnold Schwarzenegger look weak, Republicans must understand themselves well enough to know why Arnold alone must be allowed to occupy the field.

First, they must realize that removing any Republican competition will help shift the focus to the race between Arnold and Bustamante, rather than diverting media and public attention to the intra-party rivalry between Schwarzenegger and McClintock. Second, Republicans must face the fact that it makes sense to coalesce around a Schwarzenegger candidacy because he, and he alone, can command enough public and media attention in order to get a message of fiscal conservatism out to the people of California over the heads of a left-wing legislature and a predominantly liberal press. Finally, Republicans must recognize that they need this sort of extraordinary message-bearer because they have lost significant public support in recent years by concentrating on intra-party squabbles, rather than framing and disseminating a strong, clear and cohesive explanation of Republican policies and values.

And along with focus and self-knowledge, certainly the role of grace cannot be forgotten. Although some of the current poll numbers may at first glance look somewhat bleak, they can in the end result in tremendous good. To the extent that the numbers in favor of recall seem to have dropped, it becomes more difficult for unions and other Democrats to abandon Davis, thereby forcing them to split their time, money and allegiance between Davis and Bustamante. And the numbers showing a significant Bustamante lead may spur the Republicans to unify around a single candidate – subsuming intra-party factional rivalries in a larger, more generous concern for California’s future. Finally, both sets of numbers may end up reducing Democrat turnout should they actually lull partisans into a sense of complacency about the recall and/or election’s outcome.

Even the turmoil and controversy of the recall election itself may ultimately result in great good for California’s people, if it alerts them to the serious problems created by uniformly left-wing public policy, reinvigorates meaningful competition between the Democrat and Republican parties, and produces new, strong leadership that can revitalize the state. And finally, the recall offers a meaningful shot at redemption for a state Republican Party that has squandered too many opportunities and lost its voice too often – so long as it is able to stay focused, cultivate self-knowledge, and appreciate the grace that allows even the most flawed competitors, human or equine, to see a race through to the end.


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


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