Political Hay

California Schemin’

Conservative votes, liberal victories.

By 11.12.08

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Pundits who cast stones at social conservatives for the '08 thrashing need to look west.

Barack Obama won California handily, carrying most of the coastal counties by huge percentages. But Proposition 8, an amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, passed by almost half-a-million votes (52 percent to 48 percent) statewide. The initiative carried the day even though same-sex marriage was already legal in the state (courtesy of judicial fiat) and despite the linguistic gymnastics of California attorney general Jerry Brown.

In Arizona, a marriage amendment passed 56 percent to 44 percent, a remarkable turn-around considering the state shot down an amendment in 2006. John McCain won the state easily. So, marriage amendments passed in deep blue California and moderate red Arizona during a wildly Democratic year (to say nothing of the results in Florida, another state that went for Obama). That says something about the bi-partisan nature of the issue.

 If only California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger realized it. Appearing on CNN during the weekend, Schwarzenegger made no play at moderation or fence straddling and instead suggested that the California Supreme Court overturn Proposition 8.

"It's unfortunate, obviously, but it's not the end," he said. "I think that we will again maybe undo that, if the court is willing to do that, and then move forward from there and again lead in that area."

Let's be clear on what this means. A Republican governor is encouraging a state supreme court to legislate from the bench and overturn the will of the people -- not for the first time, either. To legalize same-sex marriage, the California high court had to overturn Proposition 22, an initiative passed in 2000 that enshrined the traditional meaning of marriage in statutory law. A move by the California supremes to strike down Proposition 8 would be the second time the court overthrew the will of the people.

As the LA Times describes it in a supposedly straight news story, Schwarzenegger "appears to have evolved on the issue." I don't know about evolved, but he has had a few mood swings. He came out (pun very much intended) in opposition to a marriage amendment before. Lest you think him consistent, he also vetoed legislation passed by the state assembly that would have legalized same-sex marriage. Now, he's pushing a judicial intervention to accomplish what he shunned the legislature for doing before.

That's the confusion we get when Republicans nominate and elect moderate to liberal politicians. Remember the euphoria in 2003 when Arnold was first on the ticket. Even conservatives heralded the event as a positive step for the GOP  -- just imagine the possibilities a Republican governor in California would bring, they told us. Well, now that Arnold has gone left of many Democrats, we know.

Those who argue it's better to have a leader who agrees with you on some things than a leader who agrees with you on none need a perspective shift. Successfully electing a moderate to liberal candidate to office -- whether for president, governor, or dogcatcher -- invariably tilts the party to the left. Better to be true to principle and remain an opposition movement than sell out and get a candidate who continually undercuts the conservative cause.

The silver lining of McCain's loss is that it gives the Republicans a chance to revive the principles that lead to revolutions in 1980 and 1994. McCain would inject even more liberalism into the party and would have equivocated on the pressing domestic concerns of our time. That was evident when he supported the bailout package and was mute at the now infamous meeting at the White House in September.

Candidates like Schwarzenegger are going to be the future of the party unless conservatives realize that a win on election night doesn't necessarily translate into a win for conservative principles.

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About the Author
David N. Bass is a journalist who writes from the Old North State. Follow him on Twitter.