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Stay The Course
Speech to the Los Angeles Republican Party...
[Tom McClintock] 11/23/05

Just days after leading England safely through World War II, Winston Churchill suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of British voters. As he watched the dismal results roll in, Clementine sat beside him, patted his knee and said, “Well, if you ask me, Winston, it’s a blessing in disguise.” Churchill growled, “Well at the moment, madam, it is very well disguised, indeed.”

Tonight I’d like to point out a few blessings in this election ­ however well disguised they might seem at the moment.

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]

The first is that we didn’t lose any ground in this election. Propositions 73 through 77 were attempts to move us back in a conservative direction and although they failed, we’re not any the worse off. And don’t forget, the Left tried to move us in their direction with Propositions 79 and 80, which would have socialized the pharmaceutical and energy markets. Both of those measures were ALSO soundly defeated ­ and they were defeated by a greater margin overall than the Governor’s measures. In fact, the two most conservative measures ­ 73 (parental abortion notification) and 75 (paycheck protection) did the best, and the two most liberal measures ­ 79 and 80 ­ did the worst.

The second blessing is the fact that to defeat the Governor’s initiatives, the Left had to outspend the Governor by well over $50 million. They can’t keep outspending us by that kind of margin, and when there’s a level playing field, the result will be dramatically different.

The third is that although the specific measures were all defeated, every poll that asked whether voters favored the general principles of the initiatives reported overwhelming public support. It was not the underlying philosophy that the people rejected. That’s why the left had to resort to a “Tsunami of lies and distortions,” as Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Weintraub observed. For example, they attacked the redistricting reform for giving the final say over district lines to judges when in fact, that measure gave the final say TO THE VOTERS. Empires built on lies don’t last very long. My favorite was the last two days, after they had spent over $100 million on negative ads, they went back to voters and asked, “Tired of all the negative ads? Then just vote NO.”

Fourth, although the Governor’s approval rating has been forced down ­ there is one political institution that consistently fares even worse: the liberal Democratic state legislature.

  And fifth, in San Diego, voters overwhelmingly elected the Republican candidate against the Liberal Democrat in that city’s mayoral election ­ beating her by six points in her own district.

  I’m not going to pretend that Tuesday’s election was anything for us to celebrate. Voters rejected some of the most sensible propositions 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 being spirited out of school to have an abortion. The rejection of these measures 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.

  But I do make these points to illustrate that the situation is far from hopeless. And as we review the election results and re-assess the political landscape, we need to keep things in perspective. In the grand scheme of things, this was a setback; not a cataclysm.

  So let’s be careful. In times like these, I have always found Mark Twain’s advise helpful. He 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."

  Yes, there were many tactical mistakes that were made, but I firmly believe that the strategic decisions made by the Governor in this election were sound.

  I have long said that the same legislature that got California into this mess is NOT going to get us 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 mounting deficit continued to build ­ 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 right after the recall 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?

  These shoulda-coulda-woulda questions are important ones and I don’t begrudge the pundits who are now raising and answering them. But we shouldn ’t lose sight of 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 all that we are hearing is that everyone must “work together in the spirit of bi-partisan compromise.” Well, that’s very nice and I hope it happens, 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. The Governor tried to negotiate last year when his approval ratings were at 65 percent ­ what makes anyone think that he’s in a stronger position now that his ratings are at 35 percent? The governor tried to negotiate when he could credibly threaten to go over the legislature to the people ­ what makes anyone think that he’s in a stronger position now that that option has been cut off?

The bad news is that California will continue to drift upon the course that has already brought it to the brink of insolvency. The good news is that we live in a dynamic world where events have a life of their own and 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 be coming with increasing frequency and intensity in the years ahead. As that happens, the politics of the state will shift very quickly, most likely when we least expect it.

  Let me remind you that the last time the Democrats were so jubilant was right after the 2002 election, when they had swept every constitutional office in the state. And yet, just eighteen months ­ and several crises later ­ both the Governor and the Secretary of State had been replaced with Republicans.

  Last Tuesday was one disappointing battle in the struggle for the future of California. But it proved that in order to prevail, the government unions must heavily outspend and must shamelessly misrepresent any reform measures in order to maintain their stranglehold on our government. And we know from the polls that the basic principles of these initiatives were not rejected by the electorate. And we can be sure that if the fundamental policies of this state are not changed, we will continue down an unacceptable path of chronic shortages and bloated budgets that we know the people ultimately will not tolerate.

  Here’s what was really going against us. We are attempting fundamental reforms of our state government. As Machiavelli warned,

There is nothing more difficult to execute, nor more dubious of success, nor more dangerous to administer than to introduce a new order to things; for he who introduces it has all those who profit from the old order as his enemies; and he has only lukewarm allies in all those who might profit from the new. ”

  In other words, reforms don’t happen on the first attempt, and they’re the most difficult thing in all of politics to accomplish. The governor knew the power of the government unions in this state and he knew what he was taking on. He didn’t call this election because he wanted to, because he thought it would be fun to have tens of millions of dollars spent to vilify him. He did it because he had to do it, because he is the governor of this state and because to save California he had to confront those powers and appeal to the people.

And that is just one step in the struggle. Remember what Tom Paine wrote after the humiliating defeat and retreat from New York:

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. ”
We humans are creatures of habit. We instinctively resist change and engineer our institutions of government to resist it as well. Change only occurs in a society when the necessity for it finally overcomes our own resistance to it.

  The American Founders recognized how difficult it is to change a regime ­ even a manifestly incompetent and tyrannical one. In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson warned that:

“All experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms (of government) to which they are accustomed. ”

  That is why serious reforms only come in a state of agitation. I’ll be honest with you; I thought these measures would pass for a simple reason. Two years ago, we recalled Gray Davis for policies that had bankrupted this state and this election was the opportunity to actually change those policies.

  But here is the difference between the recall of 2003 and what happened last week. During the recall, the people perceived a crisis. Last week they did not. Let us brace ourselves to the fact that ours is not the party of the status quo in California, and that makes our job very difficult. We are the party of change in a state where the status quo has produced a paradox of chronic shortages amidst record spending. We are here because we recognize that change is essential, and the longer we delay that change, the greater the waste of resources and the worse the quality of life in California will be.

  IF we are correct in the assumption that the state cannot continue down this path, then it should naturally follow that conditions will build until we reach that tipping point when the necessity for change overcomes our natural resistance to it. And if we’re correct, then it is only a matter of time before a new crisis reawakens the people of California, as one did just two years ago when 62 percent of the votes were cast for Republican candidates for Governor.

I will leave you with this question: What would Ronald Reagan do?

I think he ’d tell us to stay the course.

I think he’d tell us to level with the people over the condition of our state, and be resolute and forthright in presenting the solutions that must ultimately resolve it.

I think he’d tell us that we need to engage every Californian in this discussion, and take our message to every community in our state, especially those who don’t consider themselves Republicans.

I think he’d remind us that great parties are built upon great principles and they are ultimately judged by their devotion to those principles.

I think he’d tell us that our principles are sound, and that if we are true to them, and true to the people, we will ultimately prevail.

And I think he’d tell us that California is worth fighting for ­ no matter how long or hard the struggle may be.

  Because at the end of that struggle, we will restore to our children that California of opportunity and plenty that our parents gave to us. CRO

Speech by Senator McClintock given to the Los Angeles County Republican Central Committee on November 15, 2005




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