The fall of Gray Davis is one of the most stunning political events in American history. He has been a central figure in California politics for a generation, getting his start as a trusted member of former Governor Jerry Brown's inner circle. He was a state assemblyman, state controller, twice-elected lieutenant governor, and twice-elected governor. And now look at him. He is a chastened and rejected chief executive. His existence in political eternity will be confined to the answer section of a "Trivial Pursuit" game card, alongside his soul mate-in-failure, Governor Lynn Frazier of North Dakota.
To top it all off, the salt in Davis's political wounds was supplied by a branch of his own party's royal familythe Kennedys. They were on hand to whoop and holler over the victory of Davis's replacement, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is probably the world's most famous in-law. After nearly 30 years of public service, Gray Davis didn't land in Camelot, Camelot landed on him.
In comes the new governor who benefited from an unprecedented confluence of events in his rise to office. The electricity and budget crises stirred voter discontent. Recall pioneers, especially Ted Costa and U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, nurtured that discontent into a full-scale revolt. The GOP establishment and the influential, and often underappreciated, A.M. talk radio hosts sounded the call for unity and brought the traditional and libertarian wings of the Republican Party together behind Arnold Schwarzenegger, the consummate party moderate.
Conservative luminaries, such as Jon Coupal (President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association), Assemblyman John Campbell, and nationally syndicated radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt, vouched for Arnold's fiscal conservatism and urged fellow conservatives to give him a pass on his social liberalism. After all, so the argument went, we can't make the perfect the enemy of the good. It is better to get half of something than all of nothing. And, as a testament to the rhetorical skill of the prophets of pragmatism, the great majority of conservatives heeded the call and abandoned their fellow traveler Tom McClintock in favor of the Terminatorthe social liberal and fiscal conservative.
Like a unicorn prancing in the meadows of Camelot, however, one may have doubts that such a creature actually exists. Where is this elusive and exotic social liberal-fiscal conservative? To hear the talk of some pundits and opinion shapers in conservative circles one gets the impression that politicians are built like automobiles in Detroit. According to many, liberalism and conservatism can be added to the political soul of a politician in various combinations, like air conditioning or an automatic transmission can be added to the basic automobile package. We have been led to believe that politicians can have a variety of ideological accessories that can be added to the main chassis without disrupting the operation of the whole machine.
While this is portrayed as an established fact by almost everyone interested in politics, its veracity is somewhat in doubt. For example, let us take a look at the current Republican lineup in the U.S. Senate and compare their views on social liberalism and fiscal conservatism.
As a proxy measure of social conservatism, one could use the National Right to Life Committee index that rates members of Congress from 0 to 100, with 100 being a perfect pro-life score. As a proxy measure of fiscal conservatism, one could employ the National Tax Payers Union system, which grades office holders on fiscal policy, granting school-style grades that range from A to F. Senators who receive As and Bs are taxpayers' friends while those receiving Cs, Ds, and Fs are big spenders.
If the myth of the social liberal/fiscal conservative were true, we would expect to find plenty of senators who receive low marks from Right to Life, but high marks from the taxpayers group. Analysis of these scores, however, reveals that social liberals tend to be fiscal liberals and social conservatives tend to be fiscal conservatives. Of those who received a score of 60 or less from Right to Life, there is not a single senator with a taxpayer-friendly grade better than a C+.
Those senators who had a Right to Life score better than 80 had an average taxpayer-friendly grade of a B. Those senators who had a Right to Life score between 60 and 80 had an average taxpayer-friendly grade of B-. Those who had a Right to Life score between 40 and 60 had an average taxpayer friendly grade of C. And, finally, those with a Right to Life score of 40 or less had an average taxpayer friendly grade of C-.
The more socially liberal the politician, the more fiscally liberal is the politician. For the most part, a conservative is a conservative and a liberal is a liberal. This is the hard truth.
The question is, when the chips are down, on which side of the ledger will Arnold Schwarzenegger be? How will he choose? What will he decide? Will the governor-elect's social liberalism engulf his alleged fiscal conservatism?
There is much at stake in the answer, not only for the future of our new governor-elect and the state that placed its trust in him, but also for the credibility of those who rallied so many conservatives under his banner.