By Doug Patton
The freak show currently under way in California is a perfect example of why we have regular elections, in an orderly manner. We allow elected officials to serve out their full terms unless they turn out to be criminals - sometimes even if they do turn out to be criminals.
California now has in excess of 130 candidates on the ballot in its current election for governor. With the recall of Gray Davis virtually a forgone conclusion, the special election has become a free-for-all, with the biggest name in the race a muscle-bound movie star with liberal views on most of the social issues of the day.
The conventional wisdom is that Arnold Schwarzenegger will be the state's next governor. That could very well be the case. The way the ballot is arranged, with the recall as one issue and the election of a replacement as another, it will not take a large percentage of the vote to win. But the advisability of such a move is questionable. By most accounts, he is pro-abortion, pro-homosexual special rights, pro-gun control and not likely to do anything about the continued flood of illegal immigrants across the California border. Not to mention that his conduct in his personal life is rumored to be a politician's nightmare - perhaps worse than Bill Clinton's, if that is possible.
There are those who contend that someone of Arnold's stripe is the only kind of Republican that can run and win in California, that another Ronald Reagan could not be elected there today. Maybe. But what a test of that kind of thinking it would be if Arnold were a true conservative. My guess is that he could be elected in a landslide, just as Ross Perot might have made history in 1992 if he had not turned out to be so liberal on social issues and such a screwball on everything else.
Running as a true conservative, Schwarzenegger would solidify the base of support Bill Simon enjoyed in last year's close contest against Davis. Meanwhile, Arnold's celebrity would pull the votes of 18-to-24s enamored with the idea of "electing the Terminator," without regard for his positions on the issues. (Dude! Like who cares about that?) This is the same demographic that never votes unless there is a Jesse Ventura or an Arnold Schwarzenegger on the ballot.
So, what are the ramifications of another liberal Republican in high office -especially an insanely popular one? The GOP, already being pushed to the left, would probably continue in that direction. The White House has to be gleeful over the idea of George W. Bush campaigning next year alongside Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. That could actually put the state of California into play for the president, something that isn't likely under any other circumstances.
Of course, it is hard to imagine Schwarzenegger doing a worse job as governor than Gray Davis has done. He will be a great promoter of the state. And he is right when he points to his record of achieving his goals in life. But there is no substitute for making the hard fiscal and social decisions that can stabilize the monster that California government has become.
Short term, as far as the Republican Party is concerned, the reelection of the president over any Democrat in the field trumps all other considerations, and Arnold could be very useful in enabling that to happen. But in the long run, the erosion of the conservative ideals and policies that have made the Republican Party great could mean the death knell for the GOP. In another twenty years, when our grandchildren ask what happened to the party of Lincoln and Reagan, what will we say? Will we tell them we lost it during a freak show in "Caleefornia" in the Autumn of 2003?
Doug Patton is a freelance
columnist who has served as a political speechwriter and public policy
advisor at the federal, state and local levels. His weekly columns can
be read in newspapers across the country, and on www.GOPUSA.com, where
he serves as the Nebraska Editor. He also writes