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Return To Our Principles

by Tom McClintock [politician] 9/11/07

Speech delivered to California GOP Convention 9-09-2007

This convention has had a very healthy discussion over the future of our state and over the role that our party should play in that future.

I’ve often discovered that at crossroads like this one, the past can sometimes offer guidance toward the future. 

And if you look back, you’ll find that the Whig party went through exactly the same discussion that we are having today.  Like us, the Whigs were the party of Liberty of their age.  They were the party of abolitionists and the home of the free-soil movement.  These weren’t popular positions in those days, they were very much out of step with voters and the Whigs had lost quite a few elections because of it. 

In 1848, they finally had enough.  

The Democrats had nominated a very popular Senator named Lewis Cass on a crowd pleasing platform of popular sovereignty.  Henry Clay, the Whigs’ eloquent anti-slavery champion, was ready and willing to run on an uncompromising platform to stop the expansion of slavery.  

But in 1848, everyone knew that was a position guaranteed to lose the White House to the Democrats.

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 http://www.carepublic.com/blog.html[McClintock index]

Desperate to win, the Whig Party leaders abandoned all principle, passed over Clay and instead nominated a wildly popular hero from the just-concluded Mexican War, General Zachary Taylor. 

Taylor was a political agnostic, but he was a nationally known celebrity.  He was also a Louisiana slaveholder and the Whig party leaders thought that he would appeal across party lines.

I know this sounds utterly absurd today, but the Whig leaders were so fearful of alienating swing voters that they even refused to adopt a party platform that year, in order to avoid any controversy that might polarize people. 

And it worked. 

The Whigs won that year on Zachary Taylor’s “rock-star” popularity.

But the glue – the principles -- that held the Whigs together was gone.  Independent ranks swelled.  Various Whig constituencies spun off into the Liberty Party and various Temperance parties. The Free Soil Party was born that year.  And soon thereafter, the Republican Party

Zachary Taylor was the last Whig ever elected president.  In eight years, the Whigs, who thought the road to victory was paved by post partisanship, had utterly disappeared. 

All the voters who had joined the Whig party when it stood for the principles that they believed in, no longer had any reason to stay once it didn’t – and they left.

One of those who left was a former Whig congressman named Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln obviously didn’t believe in post-partisanship.  In fact, Abraham Lincoln held the extremely partisan position that slavery should not be extended into the territories.  And win or lose – and he’d lost a lot -- he told Republicans to stand fast on that principle.

Well, enough about the past.

Today, I hear some say that we need to “redefine who we are as Republicans.”

I’ve got news for them: we don’t need to re-define our principles – we need to return to them.

It’s true, we’ve lost 370,000 Republican voters since 2005.  But those who tell us we must be more like the Democrats have forgotten the rest of the story: the Democrats have lost 485,000 voters in the same period.

The problem is, our voters are staying home and the Democrats are going to the polls.  In the Republican stronghold of Orange County last year, voter turnout barely topped 50 percent.  In the Democratic bastion of San Francisco, turnout was 60 percent and in Marin county it hit 73 percent.

Now why is that?  

Are they withdrawing because they no longer agree with the principles of our party?  Or are they withdrawing because they no longer perceive the Republican Party is true to those principles?

Let’s ask them.  Actually, the New York Times – CBS Poll already did. 

Here’s what they found, and I quote: “Republicans said they were concerned that their party had drifted from the principles of Ronald Reagan.” 

Does that really come as a shock to anyone here?

Speaking of Ronald Reagan, I heard a quote of his the other night, taken from a speech he gave in April of 1967 to the California Republican Assembly.  It was his warning that we can’t be “a narrow sectarian party which must swear allegiance to prescribed commandments.”  None of us would disagree with that.  But the quote was offered in support of the proposition that we needed to move more toward the Democrats.

But somehow, for some reason, that quote left out the VERY NEXT LINE in Ronald Reagan’s speech.  Do you what he said in his very next sentence?   He said, “Let no one, however, interpret this to mean compromise of basic philosophy or that we will be all things to all people for political expediency.”

And that brings us to the fine point of the matter.

It’s true that we are a minority party today – just as we were in Lincoln’s time.    

And we can win some short term victories by compromising our philosophy for political expediency.  I’ve actually watched some people do that. 

But a party that does that soon discovers it has ceased to be a party at all.

First it loses its soul.  And then it loses its supporters.

The harder but CERTAIN way for a minority to become a majority is not to adopt the majority’s views, but to develop a better vision of governance than the majority party, take that vision to the people and earn their charter to govern.  That’s what gives meaning to victory.

We are told that this vision should not be guided by principle, but by the polls.  And I don’t deny that at this moment global warming and universal health care are hot political issues and that they have overwhelming support.

I doubt that will be the case a year from now. 

The so-called global warming bill mandates a 25 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 – a tall order since carbon dioxide is an integral part of all human activity – starting with exhaling. 

To accomplish these draconian reductions, on Thursday, the administration announced plans to triple the number of anti-business regulations previously contemplated in support of that act.  That has devastating implications for California’s economy – impacting everything from construction, cement production, agricultural fertilizer, cargo transportation, energy generation, semiconductor manufacturing, baking and wine production, just for starters. 

Meanwhile, the advent of socialized medicine will have profound implications on the quality of life in this state. Every time and every place this has been tried, it has consistently produced massive cost overruns for government, massive increases in insurance premiums for consumers, widespread fraud and ultimately a deterioration in health care services and a rationing of what remains. 

Now let me ask you, what good will our party have done if, at the end of the day, we have imposed in our name the very policies we know will devastate California under the empty banner of post partisanship?

If we really want to take the state in this direction, we don’t have to do anything at all.  Just go home.  It’s already going there.  Democrats are in the majority, they are determined to move in that direction, and at the moment they have the backing of the majority of voters.

But if we don’t want to move in this direction, then we’ve got to stand up as a party and take a principled stand in opposition to these policies – confident that ultimately the public will awaken to something that even French voters finally figured out.  European Socialism won’t work any better in California than it has worked in Europe.  

Fortunately, we have another course that we can take, a course that Ronald Reagan outlined after the election of 1974, another period when independent ranks were swelling and our party was demoralized, fragmented, and rudderless. 

He said, "Our people look for a cause to believe in. Is it a third party we need, or is it a new and revitalized second party, raising a banner of no pale pastels, but bold colors, which make it unmistakably clear where we stand on all of the issues troubling the people?"

I believe that events are now rapidly coming to a head and there can be only one of two outcomes.

Perhaps we are all wrong.  Perhaps the crushing burdens now being imposed upon our commerce will produce a wave of new investment and innovation and environmental purity. Perhaps the unprecedented levels of deficit spending and borrowing will send our economy into paroxysms of prosperity.  Perhaps.

But there is another possibility.  There’s a possibility that we’re right, and that the inevitable economic realities of reckless spending and borrowing and crushing regulation are already well underway toward destroying California’s once-vibrant economy.

And we must be prepared for that possibility.  In the 1930’s, appeasement was immensely popular, until the people awakened to the damage that had been done.  In 1994, Hillarycare had overwhelming public support and was supposed to sweep Congress on broad bi-partisan votes – until Phil Gramm stood up one day and said, “I’m not so sure I want the people who run the DMV to run my doctor’s office.” 

In normal times, most people don’t pay a lot of attention to public policy, and occasionally democracies drift off course.   But when a crisis approaches, that’s when you see democracy engage.  One by one, individual citizens sense the approach of a common danger and they rise to the occasion.  They focus – they look beyond the symbols and rhetoric – and they begin to make very good decisions. 

Political majorities can shift very quickly in such times.  Polls can reverse themselves almost overnight in such times.  And I believe that day is now rapidly approaching for California – and when it arrives Californians won’t be looking for a pale post-partisan reflection of the Democrats. 

Reagan was right: they’ll be looking for a revitalized second party, raising a banner of no pale pastels, but bold colors.

Years ago, Ronald Reagan talked about glimpsing a shining city on a hill.  I can tell you where that city is – it is right under our feet.  California.  And the only thing required to bring it back is to restore the basic Republican principles of freedom that we have lost in California’s public policy. 

And if we will not stand for those Republican principles, my fellow Republicans -- who will?

I know the answer of every person in this hall:  WE WILL. CRO

Delivered to California GOP Convention 9-09-2007





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