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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, CNN, 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.


More Davis than Reagan
Tom McClintock’s Blind (Personal) Ambition
[Carol Platt Liebau] 9/22/03   

Yesterday, ABC’s Sunday morning news program, This Week, focused on the upcoming release of Reagan: A Life in Letters, a collection of President Reagan’s writings over the years to family, friends, adversaries and ordinary Americans.

The program was a tribute to one of the finest, most principled Americans of all time. It was followed by a local news update prominently featuring the recall. The juxtaposition of the two broadcasts suggests a question: What would Ronald Reagan think of the recall, and Republicans’ roles in it?

Of course, speculation of this sort is always dangerous. It’s impossible for anyone to know precisely how President Reagan would have reacted to the recall. But one can predict with some certainty how he would have felt about the increasingly bitter intra-party rivalry between Republicans Tom McClintock and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He wouldn’t have approved. President Reagan is, after all, the framer of the famous Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.

Sadly, this is a mandate that Tom McClintock has completely ignored. Almost single-handedly, he has done a remarkable job of playing into cherished liberal stereotypes of conservatives as thin-lipped Puritans who glory in deciding who is – and is not – a “real Republican.” The way he has conducted his campaign has finally legitimized the criticisms of those who have for years protested the Republican Party’s supposed lack of “inclusiveness.” Rather than welcoming centrist and swing voters who support Arnold into the Republican Party and then explaining why he’s the better choice, McClintock has instead taken the low road.

In his repeated invocation of principle, and his self-characterization as the sole conservative in the race, Tom McClintock would perhaps like Californians to see him as a modern-day Ronald Reagan. But as time has passed, Tom McClintock has come to resemble not Reagan, but Gray Davis – only with infinitely better policies, much more decisiveness and marginally better hair.

Like Davis’ 1994 attacks on Dianne Feinstein comparing her to Leona Helmsley, McClintock has shown willingness – even eagerness – to criticize his opponent, often unfairly. How disheartening to hear him denigrate Schwarzenegger’s intelligence – with elitist remarks that bear an unfortunate similarity to the jibes to which President Reagan’s and President G.W. Bush’s adversaries have often stooped (witness McClintock’s remark in last week’s debate that, unlike Arnold, he had actually read conservative economist Milton Friedman’s books). Schwarzenegger may not be perfect – but someone who arrives in this country in 1968 with little money and less English, and then rises to achieve wealth and success, may be many things ... but stupid isn’t one of them.

Along with a penchant for attacking his opponents, McClintock has come to resemble Davis in his willingness to take money to advance his own career from special interests inimical to ordinary Californians. Indian gaming interests are funding his campaign – along with Cruz Bustamante’s. Surely a man of McClintock’s keen intelligence understands what the tribes are doing – using him to divide the Republican vote and thereby secure a Bustamante victory. But again – like Davis with the tribes, the unions, and others – so long as the money is flowing into his coffers, McClintock just doesn’t care about the consequences for anyone (or anything) else.

Nor do the disquieting resemblances between McClintock and Davis end there. Of course, no one is as uniformly disliked in Sacramento as Gray Davis. But like Davis, McClintock has the reputation of being a stubborn loner, and is certainly a man who can come across both as self-righteous and inexplicably rigid. McClintock has repeatedly lashed out at Arnold for seeking advice from Warren Buffett (and Arnold would certainly deserve the criticism were he to follow any of that advice!). But there is something refreshing about a leader – unlike Davis, and apparently unlike McClintock – who is willing to hear a multiplicity of views, even if he ultimately discards some of them.

In truth, McClintock never had the support of the conservatives who believe that he cannot win the recall election, but he did have our respect (and a degree of appreciation for ensuring that Arnold would, indeed, articulate fiscally conservative views). This week, though, he lost any claim upon any conservative or Republican’s good will by demonstrating that he shares Davis’ most ignoble quality – his selfishness. According to news reports, this week Tom McClintock told Rep. Dan Burton (R-In.) that he is willing to see Cruz Bustamante win this year’s election, as it would boost his own chances for 2006.

If these reports are true, then McClintock doesn’t deserve ever to serve as governor – and all Republicans should be ready to crawl over broken glass uphill both ways to ensure that he never becomes a viable candidate again. Like the contemptible Democrats who were willing to let the poor suffer in order to advance their own agendas and defeat the recall (as revealed by their own remarks inadvertently broadcast throughout the Capitol), by his own admission McClintock is willing to let small business owners, families, taxpayers and law-abiding citizens across California suffer for three long years at least – and possibly sustain irreparable harm — all for the sake of his own ambition.

Last Saturday, on the Fox News Channel, McClintock openly remarked, “This isn’t about the Republican Party.” Well, for some of us, it is. Even those of us who largely share McClintock’s conservative social views surely understand that this election is about rebuilding a Republican Party that can someday implement its cherished free-market economic principles and promote its more traditional social views – and in the meantime, at least serve as a meaningful check on the radical leftists in the California Legislature. But a Democratic victory in the recall, which McClintock apparently is able to contemplate with equanimity, will only embitter and demoralize Republicans so completely that these objectives will be set back for another generation.

In striking contrast to Tom McClintock today, for Ronald Reagan in 1976, it was all about the Republican Party. When it became clear that he lacked the support to win the party’s presidential nominee, Reagan threw his support behind nominee Gerald Ford – a weaker, more liberal and less able leader – in order to maintain the unity that would allow the party to promote its ideas more effectively in the future. In short, Reagan was willing to step aside for Ford for the party’s sake, even though it meant short-term defeat. How different from Tom McClintock, who isn’t willing to step aside even if his withdrawal might ensure a Republican victory – just as Davis wasn’t willing to step aside, even back when his resignation would have spared the Democratic Party the ordeal of the recall.

And so, in the end, perhaps the greatest tragedy for all of us – and certainly for the man himself – is that when Tom McClintock had the choice, he decided to emulate California’s least admirable Governor, instead of its greatest.

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


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