By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Indeed, California Republican conventions are hard-wired for nostalgia. The delegates, largely aging and almost entirely white, look representative either of Nebraska today or of California before the Latino and Asian migrations of the past 20 years (or the black migrations of the 1940s through the ’70s). And the presentations of both Schwarzenegger and McClintock to the delegates were remarkably backward-looking.
Arnold’s talk involved no heavy lifting; he merely sought to assure conservatives that he was the genuine article. He did not do that, however, by taking a range of conservative positions on current controversies: Affirming only to help business and keep taxes down, he made sure all was vagueness and light. The specifics in his talk were all memories: how listening to Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 presidential campaign had made him a Republican; how his love for Ronald Reagan had affirmed it. Indeed, Arnold extolled Nixon so often that it’s clear his advisers have concluded that the collective memory of Tricky Dick must be fading into the oblivion of Americans’ historic consciousness. The delegates, though, certainly warmed to the comments; most looked old enough to have walked precincts for Nixon in his first redbaiting congressional race in 1946.
(Indeed, one curious and ominous measure of Republican prospects in today’s California is that neither Schwarzenegger nor McClintock nor any other plenary speaker on Saturday thought to mention the current presidential trickster, George W. Bush, even once. The utter absence of the president’s name from the most heavily attended and covered state GOP conclave in recent history was a stunning acknowledgment that when Republicans seriously seek election in California today, they think it best not to remind voters of their party leader, whose stock is dropping like a Santa Clara dot-com.)
Schwarzenegger really sought to do nothing more in his talk than proclaim Ich bin ein Republican. McClintock was more specific in his, unveiling a laundry list that calls for privatizing much of California government and scrapping a range of nettlesome regulations (though he was not so specific as to note that he was calling for axing the regs that protect workers and the environment). But chiefly, McClintock sounded a battle cry to lead California back to a simpler time for which he plainly ached.
His campaign, he vowed, “will succeed because we have to, if our children are to know the California that once was and, God willing, will be again.” He was referring, he made clear, to the California that he and his parents came to in 1965. “Our parents headed west to this state,” he said, and there — in Thousand Oaks — “they found the Golden State of their dreams.” Though 40 miles from downtown L.A., you could get there by car in 45 minutes, he recalled. The public schools he attended were world-class, and the landscape was adorned with affordable suburban homes and their backyard pools.
I grew up in that Los Angeles, too, and it was indeed a marvelous place — but not for everyone. The year 1965 was a bit more troubled than McClintock’s account would have us believe; there was that nasty Watts Riot, among other things. But that was other people’s problems, in other people’s California — not the white, middle-income paradise that McClintock recalls. “I remember that state,” he told the delegates. “I lived there. You lived there. And it’s been taken from us. Ladies and gentlemen, don’t you think it’s time to take that state back?!”
McClintock insists he means to take it back from liberal regulations, but that’s hardly the only crusade he’s mounting. Surely, the Thousand Oaks of McClintock’s youth has also been taken from us by a wave of low-income immigrants who have settled over the earlier state, and who now are being granted driver’s licenses, though not if Tom McClintock — who backs the initiative campaign to repeal that law — has anything to say about it.
III. The New Testament of Bill Clinton
One day, five miles and a gazillion political light-years from McClintock’s talk at the Marriott, Bill Clinton was also reminiscing about his coming to Los Angeles. Last Sunday at First AME Church, Clinton recalled coming to L.A., as the front-runner in the 1992 Democratic presidential campaign, immediately following the ’92 riots. Noting that California had since become a state “where Americans of European descent were no longer a majority,” Clinton said, “I knew that what happened to you would determine what would happen to America as a whole. I knew that you were the future.”
He did not want that future to include the prospect of recalling elected officials who made tough decisions, he said. Whether decisiveness is the sin for which Gray Davis is being made to pay is open to some question, of course: It was Davis’ dithering during the energy crisis that brought his poll numbers down. But Clinton was preaching forgiveness for sins generally, citing the parable of Jesus challenging sinners to cast the first stone. By the time he had finished, he’d made clear that while the recall might be an artifact of Old Testament vengeance, it could never meet the test of New Testament love and absolution.