Listening to some Republicans and conservatives on the possibility of winning the California governorship lately has been dismaying. "We don’t really want to win this race. California is in such a mess it can’t be fixed and we will be tagged as failures if we try. Let the Democrats continue to stew in their mess." Or a variation on this theme: "Whoever wins will not have a mandate so he/she will not be able to govern, especially with the huge Democratic majorities in the California legislature." We conservatives didn’t get where we are today with this kind of thinking and we can’t lead in the future with this attitude. California is a liberal proving-ground run amok. Its crushing debt—resulting from years of pandering to unions, bureaucrats, illegal immigrants, environmentalists and trial lawyers—has led to huge tax increases, major cuts in basic services, a reduction in the state’s credit rating, brown-outs, water shortages and a large exodus of citizens from the state. None of this decay is surprising. The left’s promises of Nirvana never measure up. But what does surprise me are the reactions of some conservatives who see California’s problems as so severe that they can’t be solved by the application of conservative principles. Their thinking has led them to support Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, to my knowledge, has yet to embrace any conservative positions, though he has embraced Warren Buffet. Hasta la vista, whatever. There’s no better time to advance conservative principles than when they’re most needed. And California needs a large dose of conservatism. Recent history should be our guide. Remember Carter? During the presidency of Jimmy Carter, inflation, unemployment and interest rates were double-digit. OPEC held sway over the U.S. economy. In the dead of winter, Carter urged Americans to lower thermostats, wear sweaters and sleep with an extra blanket. He lectured the public to lower its expectations, and spoke of a "malaise" in which he blamed Americans for his own leadership failures. America’s predicament was no better abroad. Communism was on the march in Afghanistan, Nicaragua and Angola. The U.S. lost a key ally in Iran, eventually resulting in a disgraceful hostage crisis lasting 444 days. What conservative would want to be President under these dire circumstances, right? Well, of course, we know that Ronald Reagan wanted the job. He espoused unequivocally conservative principles and policies. He was confident that strong leadership, free enterprise, limited government, tax cuts, and a strong defense were the solutions. And most of all, he believed in the inherent character and fortitude of the American people. He understood that it was freedom, the natural yearning of the human spirit, that propelled people to pursue excellence—so long as government obstacles were swept aside. Reagan’s often-expressed optimism and confidence in the American people was infectious and inspired millions of Americans to attack a recession and defeat it. Within hours of his inauguration, President Reagan froze federal hiring. He also deregulated oil prices, which weakened OPEC’s grip—increasing supply and lowering costs. Moreover, fearing Ronald Reagan’s wrath, the Iranian regime released its American hostages. During the first summer of his presidency, Reagan forced through Congress, including a Democrat-controlled House, the most broad-based and significant tax cut in American history, thereby unleashing unprecedented economic prosperity for the next two decades. Who would have thought that possible? And at the same time, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization ordered its membership to strike illegally, in hopes of shutting down air travel in an effort to force Reagan to meet its demands. The President’s response to this blackmail: Within 48 hours he fired nearly 70% of the strikers, and he had Patco decertified. Reagan’s conservatism didn’t end at the water’s edge. Despite enormous opposition from congressional Democrats, he pushed back the Soviet Union on all fronts. In 1983, at the height of the nuclear freeze protests, he deployed the first Pershing intermediate-range ballistic missiles in West Germany in response to the Soviet targeting of missiles at Western Europe. In 1986, the President ordered an attack on Libya in response to its bombing of a German nightclub in which several Americans were killed, showing the world that savagery against Americans would be punished. Reagan rebuilt the military and launched the Strategic Defense Initiative, which is not only a key aspect of America’s present-day defense structure, but helped break the back of Soviet Communism and freed hundreds of millions imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain. No one had thought this possible either. Unfortunately, some still regret it. You know who you are. It’s important to remember that each of these bold actions was met with skepticism and derision. In fact, Reagan himself was met with the same reaction during his entire public career—including his earlier unsuccessful campaigns for the presidency. But he stuck by his principles. He believed in them. He championed them. He saw opportunity where others despaired. He saw challenges where others surrendered. Conservatives need to learn from Ronald Reagan. They need to stop being timid, pessimistic and insecure. California needs solutions. There is no better time and place to establish and illustrate the primacy of conservatism. True, not all of California’s problems mirror those of the late ’70s and ’80s, but many do, particularly those that forced this recall. Now, if one man with a vision completely changed the course of a nation, why can’t it happen in a single state?
Sign up to the Human Events newsletter