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Steinberg – 1999 Regional Meeting

Arnold Steinberg

The Philadelphia Society Regional Meeting

Los Angeles, October 16, 1999


For a long time California has been recognized as the vanguard state, but for
what? In culture; or perhaps, counter-culture? In free speech, or was it filthy
speech? In the conservative politics of Ronald Reagan or the confrontation
playbook of Willie Brown? But the reality is that, for better or worse, things are
done here first. It’s not simply that the state’s gross national product is larger
than the GNP of nearly every country. Even before Silicon Valley, this state,
partly due to the postwar electronics and defense boom, was a leader in
technology. With less glamour than in high tech, the state remains an agricultural
colossus. Its naturally rich soil and relatively stable climate make its central
valley a laboratory for efficiency and innovation. With a relatively shorter history
and even less tradition than for Eastern states, California, in many fields, was
simply more responsive to change. For example, while the rest of the country
pursued traditional banking, this state pioneered in the postwar growth of the
savings and loan industry, which underwrote mortgages for the massive growth
in home ownership following World War II.

Indeed, one of the most generous benefactors of conservatism in California,
Howard Ahmanson, Jr., is the son of the late Howard Ahmanson, a marketing
genius who understood one principal legacy of the Great Depression, the
insecurity about banking. So, his Home Savings offices were not rented ground
floor storefronts in office buildings, but costly stand-alone one story edifices
that conveyed permanence and continuity. "There’s no place like Home," his
announcer, the right-wing Harry von Zell, of Burns and Allen fame, and, later,
George Fennimen, Groucho Marx’ straight man, would say. When liberal
Democrat Pat Brown was elected Governor in 1958, he would raise a fortune
from liberal Democrats who wanted state approval for the valuable state S&L
charters. Brown himself was not as liberal as others – the California Democratic
Council (CDC), a farther-left California version of the Americans for
Democratic Action (ADA), which at times seemed more socialist than liberal,
but anti-communist, nonetheless.

And what about Hollywood? Despite runaway productions, it remains the
undisputed center of film, although it still competes with New York as a center
of liberal culture. Hollywood, like the S&Ls, and long before Silicon Valley,
offered the potential to develop a new class of rich people without inherited
wealth. As for television , the original three networks, before all the mergers and
cable – ABC, NBC, and CBS – tested their most advanced ideas at their owned
and operated stations in Los Angeles, the second largest media market next to
New York, but the first in innovation. Here, local news first expanded in more
minutes on the air, again and again, before it did elsewhere. Here, local news in
more recent years was watered down, again and again, before it was diluted
elsewhere. Today, an all-news radio station is a given in many major cities. We
have two in Los Angeles; one of them, KFWB 98, one was the leading rock
station in the sixties with its Fabulous Forties format before it became all news.
In fact, the original all news format ("All news, all the time, X-Tra News) started
here in Los Angeles in the sixties, just as talk radio started here with the
legendary Joe Pyne.

Let me say that I will not talk about these things very much, not because they
are unimportant, but because we do not have time to explore the rather
important relationship between culture, values, politics, but I do encourage your
questions. I do not talk at all, for example, about the vast University of
California and its companion California State University systems. The "Future
of Conservatism in California," is affected, positively and negatively, by lots
more than politics. Also, we have great leaders and organizations in California
that advance common causes. Make no mistake, the quibbling aside between
libertarians and traditional conservatives, there are broad areas of agreement not
only on the free market but on opposing the wave of political correctness.
Indeed, the campaign for 209 to end racial and gender preferences united
libertarians and conservatives. More about 209 soon.

Surely we cannot really explore the future of conservatism, in this state, or even
nationally, without noting the importance of organizations and the people behind
them. The Hoover Institution has been a bastion in the anti-communist
movement. There is the great influence of The Claremont Institute and Larry
Arnn. Consider the economics department at UCLA which some had called
"Little Chicago," to recognize that many of its most illustrious faculty were
trained at Milton Friedman’s University of Chicago. The Pacific Research
Institute and Sally Pipes, and the Independent Institute and David Theroux, and
the Reason Foundation and Bob Poole, and the David Horowitz conglomerate,
are a few. We also include within our borders more than our fair share of elder
statesmen like Bill Rusher and Frank Shakespeare, not to mention the great
Nobel Laureate, Milton Friedman. We have generous benefactors like Jerry
Hume who supports the Heritage Foundation and many other national
conservative endeavors. Our Henry Salvatori, whose death ended an era of
ideological big givers to politics, contributed a quarter of a million dollars to
Goldwater before Bill Gates made such sums sound trivial. Mr. Salvatori and
his fellow tycoons launched the Reagan candidacy for Governor while meeting
at the same California Club that some of you will enter tonight to hear Bill
Rusher. Talk about optimism. They met in 1965, not long after Goldwater’s
crushing defeat, to lay the ground to elect an actor as Governor of this
nation-state. All this before Warren Beatty.

We must look to the past for guidance toward our future. Here, in California,
we launched the political careers of two Presidents – Richard Nixon and Ronald
Reagan. Nixon, who deeply disappointed many of us with his heretical support
of wage and price controls, kept the Soviets off balance with what many of us
saw as a sell-out of the Nationalist Chinese. In retrospect, this was Richard
Nixon playing chess on an international board. Then, there was the nonstrategic
Gerry Ford (even he retired to California, in Palm Desert) and the naïve Jimmy
Carter (who fortunately has not retired here), and the Soviet invasions of
Afghanistan and Poland, and the taking of American hostages in Iran.. Where
Nixon played chess, Reagan played poker, raising the table stakes so high that
the Soviet empire crumbled. There was indeed morning in America.

But all the while, Reagan’s personal style left the Republican party here in an
ambiguous state. The California Republican party never mustered strong
leadership or sustained success at the state legislative or the Congressional level.
We have produced state legislators like Pat Nolan with great energy who fell
victim to a tainted Federal prosecution. We have produced Members of
Congress with enormous potential like Bob Dornan who fell victim to himself.
But the single dominant figure in Republican politics in California for the last
two decades was not one of us. I speak of Pete Wilson, very much of a Nixon
tactician who could teach Dick Morris a thing or two about triangulation.

But we talk about more than political personalities. California is not simply a
state that has occupied a larger and larger amount of space on the national
electoral map. It is a state that has spawned good ideas
The contemporary tax limitation movement started in 1978 with California’s
Proposition 13. Essentially, Proposition 13 limited properly taxes in two ways.
Property taxes could not exceed one percent of valuation at a time when
property taxes were running as high as three percent of valuation. Further, your
property tax bill could not increase from one year to the next by more than 2
percent, at a time when increases were in double digits.

If you believe Republicans took control of the House in the 1994 elections
because of Newt Gingrich, and not Bill Clinton, then you believe Proposition 13
occurred because Californians were reading Capitalism and Freedom.
Remember this sobering fact. Proposition 13 was destined to lose, like Howard
Jarvis’ other statewide measures, except for two occurrences. Reassessment
notices with huge increases in assessments were mailed in key counties weeks
before the election. Also, it was revealed perhaps six weeks before the election
that the State of California had a surplus of billions of dollars. Since proposition
13, liberals have learned not to cut government, but to try to raise revenue in
different ways. That’s another subject.

California is the largest state with the initiative process. In many ways, as we go,
so goes the nation. Just as Proposition 13 spawned successful measures to limit
property taxes in other states, the national movement against racial and gender
preferences started in 1996 with Proposition 209. But the leadership of the
Republican party nationally, and in California, has been sufficiently myopic as
to avoid issues like Proposition 209. When they get involved, they do so
clumsily, so that they hurt themselves and the issue, as they appear expedient
and divisive, rather principled and unifying.

In many ways, issues and political personalities are intertwined. Let’s work
backwards for a few minutes, before we look forward, because looking at the
past will provide us with clues on where we are going.

Consider the two United States Senate seats. One seat, which currently is held
by that intellectual powerhouse, Barbara Boxer, was held in the early sixties by
the liberal Republican Tom Kuchel. Kuchel was defeated in a primary by then
State Education Superintendent Max Rafferty. In the same 1968 general election
for President that Richard Nixon won, Rafferty, who seemed to scare voters
with his fire and brimstone style, was defeated by liberal iconoclast Alan
Cranston, one time leader of California’s California Democratic Council.
Cranston, who had been discredited by his practice, as California State
Controller, of appointing tax appraisers who contributed to his campaign, ran a
centrist campaign. Afterwards, he showed the power of incumbency. A master
of constituent service, especially in helping Republican businessman, Cranston
voted liberal but sounded moderate in his radio sound bites. He was everywhere
on television and radio.

Cranston was reelected three times. The first time, in post-Watergate 1974,
Cranston defeated H.L. "Bill" Richardson, an affable conservative who sought
to construct a preposterous coalition of gun owners, hunters and fishermen,
recreational vehicle owners, and evangelical Christians. The second reelection
campaign for Cranston was in 1980, the strong Republican year in which
Ronald Reagan was elected. Cranston defeated Paul Gann, the lesser-known
half of Jarvis-Gann who two years earlier had revolutionized California with
Proposition 13. Like Richardson, Gann ran an inept campaign, seeking to
capitalize on a born-again Christian base that was hardly Republican at that time.
The third time, In 1986, Cranston barely defeated U.S. Congressman Ed
Zschau who, in turn, had defeated Bruce Herschensohn in a primary. Zschau
was a good campaigner who fell victim to the Cranston’s dirty tricks campaign,
which funded supposed independent expenditure negative TV advertising
against him to evade campaign finance laws.

Finally, in 1992, Cranston was no longer viable, victim to his cozy relationship
with savings and loan tycoon Charles Keating, himself a one-time crusading
anti-pornography conservative who had headed Citizens for Decency Through
Law, whose chief spokesman was Bob Dornan, just before Dornan as elected
to Congress. This time, Bruce Herschensohn was the nominee, having defeated
Tom Campbell, who sat out the election. Herschensohn lost to Barbara Boxer,
again falling victim to Democratic dirty tricks at the end. Finally, last year, in
1998, Barbara Boxer defeated State Treasurer Matt Fong who ran a lackluster
underfunded campaign.

What can we learn from the Boxer seat? In Max Rafferty, Bill Richardson, and
Paul Gann, we ran variously conservative candidates who lacked money and an
appealing political presence. None of these candidates made effective use of
television and radio advertising. Zschau, and then Herschensohn, would have
won, absent dirty tricks and, in Herschensohn’s case, he was harmed by
Bush’s early concession of California. Herschensohn’s political base had been
defined by his years as a commentator on highly rated KABC-TV in Los
Angeles. As for Fong in 1998, his television ads featured his mother asking
people to vote for him. Fong had defeated Darrell Issa, a businessman who ran
a silly campaign in which, even after Micheal Huffington’s $30 million
campaign, Issa boasted about how much money he would spend. So, we can
see that it is not a rejection of conservatism that accounts for someone as
liberal, and as dumb, as Boxer Boxer represented this great state.

Let us now turn to what has been called the jinxed U.S. Senate seat, which
political expert Tony Quinn reminds me is the historic seat of the Hiram
Johnson, who led the fight against the League of Nations and who joined the
Bull Moose ticket in 1912. In 1958, Governor Goodwin Knight and U.S.
Senator Bill Knowland decided, inexplicably, to trade offices and push a
right-to-work initiative at the same time. Political hubris. The initiative energized
the opposition. Knight lost the Governorship to Attorney General Edmund G.
"Pat" Brown, and Knowland lost the Senate race to Clair Engle, a veteran
California politician first elected to the California State Senate in 1942 and then
the U.S. Congress in 1944. Now, in 1962, four years after Governor Knight had
lost the Senate race, and four years after Sen. Knowland had lost the
Governorship to Pat Brown, Pat Brown was reelected, defeating Richard Nixon
who was trying for a political comeback after losing the Presidency in 1960.
Parenthetically, note that Nixon, after that defeat, was pronounced politically
dead. Meanwhile, back to the Senate where, in 1964, Clair Engle, suffering from
a brain tumor, did not withdraw from the primary and lost to former JFK Press
Secretary Pierre Salinger. When Engle died, Governor Brown appointed
Salinger to fill the unexpired term.
Salinger, running as an incumbent, was defeated by actor George Murphy. That
was in 1964, the same year Barry Goldwater was trounced by Lyndon Johnson.
Was Murphy a conservative? In many ways, he was. But he won because he
was considered a nice guy. Indeed, that same year, a measure called
Proposition 14 was on the ballot to repeal the Rumford Fair Housing Act and to
prevent further such anti-discriminatory legislation interfering with property
rights. By the way, to show you how times have changed, the liberal Los
Angeles Times supported Proposition 14. That is, the Times supported a flat
prohibition on so-called fair housing legislation. In any case, Murphy was asked
how he would vote on this high visibility ballot issue. "Good heavens," he
replied, and then lectured voters on the sanctity of the voting booth. Murphy
told them soldiers had died to protect the secret ballot, and he would never say
how he would vote. And that kind of campaigning worked a generation ago.

Do not lose sight of this: A bad year for Goldwater and Republicans. But actor
George Murphy wins. Again and again, Californians go for an affable public
personality.

The jinxed seat. Clair Engle did not complete his term. Salinger did not serve a
full term. And Murphy, following disclosures that he, while U.S. Senator, was
on a private consulting contract with conservative business tycoon Pat Frawley,
lost to Congressman John Tunney, son of the boxer. Conservatism did not lead
to Murphy’s loss. Indeed, that same year, Bill Brock won in Tennessee and Jim
Buckley won in New York. But this California seat continued jinxed. Six short
years later, in 1976, even while Jimmy Carter won the Presidency, John Tunney
was defeated by S.I. Hayakawa, who ran an eclectic campaign that capitalized
on Hayakawa, as San Francisco State College president, standing up to student
radicals in the 60s. Despite relative obscurity following that incident, the
memory of the slight man physically confronting student thugs, solidified his
identity for years to come. But Hayakawa tended to fall asleep, and not merely
figuratively, in the U.S. Senate. So he, too, served only one term.

Hayakawa’s successor was Pete Wilson who, in a multi-candidate Republican
primary race, was the only candidate with a base – San Diego. Pete Wilson then
was elected in November primarily because his opponent was by-then the
unpopular Jerry Brown, whose anti-growth small is beautiful philosophy was
incompatible with the recession.. Wilson was blessed with another weak
opponent six years later, in 1988, Assembly Speaker Leo McCarthy and broken
the one-term spell of this seat. Then, two years later, the seat’s instability
reappeared. Upon Wilson’s election as Governor in 1990, Wilson appointed a
crony, John Seymour, a colorless and unknown state senator who offered little
except loyalty to Wilson. No wonder Seymour, who could not energize anyone,
much less conservatives, was defeated by Dianne Feinstein when he sought
election just two years later, in 1992, to the balance of Wilson’s unexpired term.
Feinstein herself, running for her first full-term in 1994, which, incidentally was
her third statewide race in six years – losing to Wilson in 1990 for Governor,
defeating Seymour for Senator in 1992, was now running against Michael
Huffington, a first-term Congressman. Again, the race was void of ideas.
Huffington, tried to rally the Christian right while spending $30 million in a
cliché-ridden anachronistic campaign that attacked Feinstein as a "tax and spend
Democrat."

In sum, we see that California voters tend to go more for personality than for
issues. How else explain the great disparities, such as Goldwater losing badly in
1964 and Murphy winning, or Carter defeating Ford, but Hayakawa winning?
Consider the Governorship. Voters rejected Nixon in 1962 because they felt he
was more interested in running for President than serving the state. Ronald
Reagan, a nice conservative in the George Murphy mold, won in 1966 and
1970. Just as Murphy refused to tell his position on Proposition 14 in 1964 ,
Ronald Reagan in 1966 was able to get away with refusing to condemn the John
Birch Society.

Jerry Brown was blessed with boring moderate Republican opponents. He
defeated State Controller Houston Fluornoy in 1974 and State Attorney General
Evelle Younger in 1978. A boring but more conservative George Deukmejian
defeated Tom Bradley twice, in 1982 and 1986. The first time was due to
absentee ballots. Bradley won on election day, but Deukmejian ultimately won
through the votes of people who voted by mail. The second time, four years
later, Bradley had, if you’ll permit me, a colorless campaign. Wilson ran a better
and more conservative campaign than Feinstein in 1990, then proceeded, upon
his election, to repudiate his base by raising taxes. In 1994, an underfunded,
then-conservative challenger, Ron Unz, received more than one-third of the vote
with a minimal and grossly underfunded campaign. Wilson was blessed with
Kathleen Brown in the Fall of ‘94. The crime and immigration issues helped
him, but so did an inept Kathleen Brown campaign.

In 1998, Gray Davis ran a disciplined, centrist campaign. Lungren, hailed
inexplicably by National Review as the "next Ronald Reagan" ran a campaign
that emphasized himself. But Lungren was not, and is not, Ronald Reagan. He
lost badly and helped bring down others.

The future of conservatism in California means a lot of things. Here are a few.
We must reconcile the libertarian and traditionalist strands of conservatism in
the kind of friendly and engaging manner that made George Murphy and Ronald
Reagan appealing. Yes, there is a social conservatism among the state’s very
rapidly growing Latino population. But it is irrelevant unless these voters see
conservatives as truly reaching out. Proposition 187 was a clumsy and poorly
drafted measure . The Pete Wilson "They just keep coming" television spot was
overkill and certainly aired to excess. Conservatives made a principled start with
the victorious Proposition 209, a dignified and positive effort to end race and
gender preferences. Proposition 227, to end bilingual education, was another
positive move. In both cases, the Republican party, anxious for wedge issues,
bungled, just as they may yet do next year with the Defense of Marriage
Initiative, which is being marketed as a religious crusade against homosexuality,
rather than an affirmation of marriage.

In a state with Silicon Valley, conservatism should be for an Internet that is
self-regulated, not government regulated. Certainly, we should go far beyond
knee-jerk support for big business toward embracing a truly free economy. That
allows for populism – opposing state and local government subsidies for urban
redevelopment, shopping malls, football stadiums. When it comes to criminal
justice, we need to lead the way from discredited policies that imprison
marijuana users and drug addicts. Clearly, we can show a greater appreciation
for civil liberties while advocating the strongest possible penalties to lock up
repeat violent criminals. We have issues like school choice, which was mangled
in a premature 1993 initiative that set the movement back. Contrary to what you
hear, the future of conservatism in California is not held hostage to demographic
trends that favor minorities and youth. We are hostage only to the incompetents
who inhibit more thoughtful communications. The demographic reality is that
form 1991 to 1996, much of the drop in the white population was due to a
reversible exodus to nearby Nevada, Arizona, Oregon and Washington, and
elsewhere.

The future of conservatism is not bleak, but it is not Buchanan. It is an
optimistic and future-oriented vision that emphasizes the opportunities of the
market place with the thoughtful need, in a turbulent environment, for civility.

 

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