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Carol Platt Liebau

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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.


The First Lesson of the Recall
Californians Will Vote for the "Right" Republican
[Carol Platt Liebau] 10/13/03   

Terry McAuliffe and Bob Mulholland can spin all they'd like – there's no denying that last week's recall represented a stinging repudiation of Gray Davis, Cruz Bustamante and big-government spending-lobby liberal politics as usual. When voters rise en masse to fire a sitting governor (and reject his lieutenant) because they are angry about high taxes and a poor business climate, it requires some pretty vigorous massaging of the facts to conclude that this outcome signals discontent with a tax-cutting President who is regularly condemned by our Democratic friends for being, if anything, too friendly with business.

McAuliffe and Mulholland are distinguished by the sheer partisanship of their rationalizations – but they're not alone in searching for meaning in last Tuesday's elections. In fact, what's most interesting as the dust settles on the recall is the variety of interpretations being offered to explain the results. And of these explanations, one argument certainly stands out: That the recall proves that Republicans must run moderates in order to win. The statement is premature -- and it is flawed.

Arnold Schwarzenegger didn't win because he is a social moderate – if anything, he won because he is a fiscal conservative. Had he not made his commitment to tax cuts and Milton Friedman's economics radiantly clear, he would have stood little chance of winning the overwhelming majority of Republican votes – which were, in turn, overwhelmingly in favor of the recall. And he may have won, in part, because his marriage to Maria Shriver sent a subliminal message to rock-ribbed Democrats that Arnold doesn't fit their stereotypes of Republicans as atavistic, knuckle-dragging bigots. But most of all, he won because the voters of California see him as the "Terminator" – and they are sending him to Sacramento to play that role vis a vis an arrogant, unaccountable state legislature highly hostile to business, and the pay-to-play special interest political culture that has developed there.

Arnold certainly didn't win because of his position on the social issues. There's no need to tout, for example, one's "pro gay" stance in a state which, three years ago, overwhelmingly affirmed that marriage is between a man and a woman. Over the years, in fact, when given the opportunity to vote on initiatives – pure propositions, untainted by the personality of any politician who could be smeared by the opposition – Californians have also voted to end affirmative action in public employment, education and contracting; to eliminate bilingual education in California's schools; and to render illegal immigrants ineligible for most state services. Clearly, when the will of the people is expressed on issues at the ballot box, their views often seem to have much more in common with Tom McClintock than with, say, Cruz Bustamante.

In fact, Arnold would probably have won had he shared all Tom McClintock's positions. Why? For one, voters simply weren't fixated on the social issues, like abortion, that liberals routinely exploit in an effort to divide Californians. And two, through his film career, voters have come to feel that they know Arnold – and they like him. Together, this means that Arnold would have been uniquely well-positioned to win as a social, as well as a fiscal, conservative; voters wouldn't have been swayed by the usual Democratic and media hysteria that is routinely encountered by any social conservative who has a realistic chance of winning high office.

What does this tell us about the future? That it may well be that social conservatives can win – as long as they project a sunny, optimistic, take-charge outlook, rather than a sour one – and if the electorate has (or can) become acquainted with them before they are defined by the inevitable unfavorable media coverage.

Arnold's victory opens the door of opportunity wide to all Republicans – conservative and liberal alike. And with this opportunity comes the great responsibility of governing – and of assisting our new governor – in accordance with our principles. If all factions of the GOP concentrate on the issues that unite us, and move forward together to rescue California, there will come a time when the social issues can be debated and discussed in a constructive, rather than a divisive, way. Then, and only then, can any interpretation about the splendid outcome of last week's recall be adopted with any real confidence.

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


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