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Tuesday's Defeat
The Senator's thoughts on the special election...
[Tom McClintock] 11/14/05

In 1945, Winston Churchill was swept from office in a devastating election defeat just days after leading England safely through World War II. As he watched in morose silence as the results rolled in, Clementine sat beside him, patted his knee and said, “If you ask me, Winston, it’s a blessing in disguise.” Churchill growled, “At the moment, madam, it is very well disguised, indeed.”

I’m not going to pretend that Tuesday’s election was anything other than what it was: an unmitigated and stunning defeat of some of the most basic principles of good government ever put to a vote: that government should live within its means; that politicians shouldn’t chose who gets to vote for them; that teachers should demonstrate sustained competence before they’re granted lifetime tenure; that public employees have a right to decide for themselves what candidates they’ll support with their own money; and that parents have a right to know if their teenaged daughter is undergoing an abortion.

Tom McClintock

Mr. McClintock is an expert on matters of the State budget and fiscal discipline. He is a Senator in the California State Legislature and ran for Governor in the 2003 recall election. His valuable website is found at [McClintock index]

Nor am I going to pretend that the election can be easily dismissed as a fluke. It was a major setback in the cause of reform and a major victory for the government unions that are now ascendant, emboldened and unchallenged in their domination of our political and legislative process.

There are many lessons to be learned and to be learned well. But as Mark Twain warned, “We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits on a hot stove-lid; she will never sit on a hot stove-lid again--and that is well; but also she will never sit on a cold one anymore."

I have always said that it is naïve to believe that the same legislature that got California into its mess is going to get it back out. The Governor learned this during the first year of his administration, when, despite a few cosmetic and incremental successes, no serious reforms survived the legislature and the state’s finances continued to deteriorate (masked by a $15 billion infusion of borrowed money).

The governor ultimately had no alternative than to bring this impasse to a head and appeal directly to the people. He could have maintained a façade of bipartisanship, contented himself to tinker at the margins, put forth pleasing half-measures while the state’s deficit continued to mount – but he chose finally to confront the state’s condition boldly and forthrightly. And he knew that to do so, he had to confront the government unions responsible for that condition.

Should the election have been called sooner, when civic attention and the Governor’s popularity were at an all-time high? Could the reforms have been better selected, framed and crafted? Would a clearer presentation of these issues have prevailed?

Those shoulda-coulda-woulda questions are important ones and I don’t begrudge the pundits who are now raising and answering them. But they should be tempered by Teddy Roosevelt’s observation that, "It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again (because there is no effort without error or shortcoming), but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause…”

Now the watchword is “compromise,” but through all this soothing rhetoric there is a hardened reality: the government unions are now in a stronger political position than ever and no “compromise” will escape the Capitol without their seal of approval. And that means the state will continue to drift upon the course that has already brought it to the brink of insolvency, until the next crisis awakens voters.

Elections are decisive moments in time that record a snapshot of public judgment, but they are conducted in a dynamic world where events can quickly reshape the political landscape. If the fundamental course of the government is not changed – and the government unions have an intense self-interest and demonstrated ability NOT to change – crises will visit California with increasing frequency and intensity. In such an environment, the politics of the state could shift very rapidly.

Whatever the Governor does in response to the election, it is imperative that he levels with the people on the actual fiscal condition of the state and that he is very clear and uncompromising in presenting the solutions that must ultimately resolve it. And when watered-down and meaningless changes are all that emerge from the legislature, he must resist the temptation to proclaim them as anything more.

We humans are creatures of habit. We instinctively resist change and engineer our institutions of government to resist it as well. Change occurs in a society only after the necessity for it finally overcomes our own resistance. That is why serious reforms only come in a state of agitation – and why the recall succeeded in 2003, while the reforms to consummate that recall failed two years later. The recall proceeded while the public perceived a crisis and the reforms were attempted when they did not.

When the next crisis comes, the Governor will find a new appreciation among Californians for what he was trying to do in this election, and a more receptive electorate to do so in the next. CRO





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