George F. Will, the respected dean of Washington conservative columnists, has written a singularly dyspeptic column on the California recall election. He advises truly conservative Californians to "vote against the recall to protest its plebiscitary cynicism (and as a precaution find a conservative candidate from the list)." He goes on to hope for Governor Davis to be muscled into resignation, which, Mr. Will theorizes, might "deflate" the recall and permit Lt. Gov. Bustamante to become both acting and then actual governor -- with all the problems that will entail. This, Mr. Will suggests, would be "condign punishment" for the Democratic Party.
Mr. Will completes his trifecta of punitive aspirations with the following slap: "California's Republican Party, sunk in frivolousness and opportunism, also deserves to come out of this badly. That is conservatism's hope for this recall: ruin all round." This is certainly Old Testament conservatism: A wrathful god (in this case George F. Will) casting plagues on the houses of all humanity. In "California According to Will," Election Day would be followed promptly by locusts, frogs, boils and floods. Suffer, ye California sinners, suffer.
As a former Californian, I have always thought that East Coasters seem particularly small and provincial when they lampoon or chastise the Golden State. I suppose such attitudes are driven by fear of, and envy for, the sheer vivacity of California life. But as a conservative and fellow citizen (Californians are also Americans, I would remind my fellow Washington pundits), I take the recall seriously. Of course, one would have to have a heart of stone not to giggle at an election ballot roster that includes a paralyzed pornography distributor who is presumably numb below the waist, two Arnolds -- one a midget, the other a former Mr. Universe, a socialite heiress who sounds like Zsa-Zsa Gabor and thinks like Huey Long, a blonde porno star who pouts her lascivious lips on cue for the news cameras, and a Lt. Governor whose only previous national attention was gained by using in a public speech the "N" word to describe African-Americans.
But after having a good laugh, one would hope that serious commentators would take the election seriously. Whatever the past electoral mistakes made by California voters, our fellow citizens are now in need of sober decision-making and good government. I don't understand Mr. Will's reference to "plebiscitary cynicism." It is an election authorized by the state constitution. Californians always directly elect their governors. There is nothing radically democratic about the process; nor anything more cynical than one always finds in elections.
It has come about because the regular four-year election cycle failed. Gray Davis was, justifiably, a vastly unpopular governor who had the good fortune to have as his Republican opponent in the last election the most incompetent major party candidate in living memory. The public had been poised to defeat Davis last November, but Mr. Simon kicked away the opportunity. The California electorate, in its solid, good judgment is going to correct that on Oct. 7.
Most curious of all Mr. Will's belittling observations was his charge that California's Republican Party is frivolous and opportunistic. That is a cruel and unfair charge coming from a principled conservative such as Mr. Will. The plight of that party is precisely that they are not opportunistic. As the state has moved steadily to the left over the last two decades (due in part to massive illegal immigration), the state Republican Party has stood heroically by its values and convictions. It has seen its numbers in state and local government diminish precisely because it would not endorse abortion on demand, liberal social welfare programs, radical environmental provisions, nanny state hectoring, higher taxes and bountiful welfare for illegal immigrants. I can't believe that Mr. Will truly believes that standing on principle makes a party frivolous. I seem to recall us conservatives ridiculing politicians who sought "relevance" over principle.
Finally, Mr. Will claims that conservatism's hope for the recall should be "ruin all around." That is not this conservative's hope. I hope Californians elect a solid Republican who can convert his election into a mandate for leadership that will help Californians recover their historic prosperity and joy of life. Since the gold rush days of 1849, a wealthy, invigorating California culture has been one of the great engines of American progress. The "ruined" California for which Mr. Will awaits will not yield solid conservative values. Such a condition would be a breeding ground from which the foulest political and cultural creatures would wriggle into the larger American culture. Californians: There are some of us here in Washington's own la-la land who wish you well.