I want to add my voice to that of Pat Lincoln in the Flash Report. The message Pat gives to Republicans is worth repeating over and over again. In late 1997, I read the book Socialism by Ludwig Von Mises, which was written in 1932. In the final chapter, Mises says, and I paraphrase, that one cannot expect an association of businesses, or an association that relies upon businesses as its main source of support (read the “California Chamber of Commerce” and the “California Manufacturing and Technology Association”) to take a principled stand against socialism. Mises said the reason for that is that business makes money by overcoming obstacles, whether those obstacles are driven by market forces, or political forces, in the short run, not by fighting long term political battles. The long term political battles are to be fought by those who are engaged in politics (read Republicans in the Legislature). That battle cannot be won by a marriage with business interests. It must be won by the principled advocacy of the principles of liberty, at each turn, and no matter the short term political cost. I will relate this story to reinforce the wisdom of Lincoln and Mises.
In March of 1998, I drove to El Dorado to meet with Alan Zaremberg of the California Chamber of Commerce for the purpose of persuading them to fund an initiative to reduce the car tax. The California Supreme Court had just decided the Sinclair Paint case, saying that fees were not taxes, and could be passed by a majority of the Legislature. The facts of the Sinclair Paint case were horrendous, and bode ill for the business community, which had a strong desire to overturn that decision by initiative. My pitch to Zaremberg was that a repeal of the car tax, married to the reversal of Sinclair Paint in an initiative would be perfect for both. The money to get the car tax on the ballot was hard to come by. A reversal of Sinclair Paint, however lacked a populist appeal. It would be perfect marriage, or so I thought.
Zaremberg said no. In his consultants’ opinion, the repeal of the car tax would generate too much government union opposition, and guarantee the defeat of their pet project. Without the car tax element, his consultants believed that the unions would ignore the Sinclair Paint initiative. They went forward with just a Sinclair Paint repeal. They were absolutely wrong. The unions lambasted the initiative as a sop to big business, to help them avoid paying for polluting the rivers and the air. Their initiative lost 70-30. We were able to pass a watered down car tax cut in the legislature that same year, that stayed in effect until Schwarzenegger helped ruin the Republican brand by increasing that tax a few years back.
The way to revive the Republican brand in California is simple. Stand for liberty, less taxes all the time (even if those taxes are reduced on business), less government, all the time (no matter how appealing the government program sounds), more individual and economic freedom all the time. The business community will come along, because they need Republicans. Republicans can date the business community once in a while, but don’t marry them. They are a faithless partner, gold diggers who will cheat on the marriage the moment they think they can make more money someplace else. A principled stand for liberty will show the voters of this state that Republicans are not part of the ruling class, whom the voters distrust, whether they are big business or big government. A stand for liberty means a stand for the common person, and that person’s fight to feed his or her family, protect his or her children, and his or her community, on a daily basis. Freedom is not perfect, but everyone knows they would rather have their fate in their own hands, and not in the hands of some bureaucrat or boss somewhere.
Big media won’t help. It is a part of the ruling class. Big business won’t help. It too is a part of the ruling class. It might hurt some members fundraising, or future job prospects (as I know all too well). Lincoln and Mises are correct. Business interests don’t care about liberty over the long run. If they can sacrifice liberty for profit, they will do so. That is not evil, that is just their obligation to their shareholders. It is as true today as in was in 1932, when Mises saw big business join up with the German National Socialists. I saw it in my time in the Legislature. Right now, the voters see the Republicans as a faithless partner in the voters’ fight to secure control of their own lives. A fight for liberty is the only way Republicans can secure a long term relationship of trust with those voters. Once secured, Republicans will secure those votes, but Republicans will have to prove themselves first. Republicans, in Sacramento and in Washington, have been cheating on those voters (usually with big business) for too long to hope to change voters’ minds overnight.