California Dreaming

The California Republican Party has become sclerotic and impotent. A fresh policy agenda and political strategy could go a long way towards rebuilding the party. But part of rebuilding the party is not losing sight of why we need to do it. This is not just about throwing out our political opponents and installing our allies, but a fight for the very future of California.

So, when we build out our policy platform, it’s worth questioning the second- and third-order effects of the policies. Replacing cattle range with yet more suburbs temporarily will lower housing costs, but do we really want more kids growing up in suburbs and fewer kids growing up on ranches? You can spend tens of billions to widen and upgrade every major highway in the state and build tunnels all around L.A., but as road capacity and the amount of driving move in perfect lockstep, congestion will remain as it ever was. 

A California that looks and feels like everywhere else, riddled with endless dystopian suburbs and monstrous urban condominiums and high-rises, with an obese, sickly, overworked population, is no California at all. Will we really have succeeded if we have administered over the final and complete destruction of everything that made California a special and unique place? Or do we dig ourselves out, inch by inch, in rage against the dying light, and revive the California dream? 

The promise of California is not in becoming a hypertech Silicon Valley fantasy, but rather a place that offers a high quality of life for ordinary people. That old California dream: a life lived in the sunshine, with all the natural beauty and blessings of the mountains and the coast, where any man with a mind to could earn a decent living and buy a bungalow, A-frame, craftsman, or ranch-style house that, while smallish in comparison to the space-wasting cookie-cutter McMansions of today, was attractive and allowed for both the private family life of the backyard and the public communal life of the front yard. This is what was taken from us and this is what we must fight to take back.

A Vitalist Agenda

To these ends, the policy program of the party should be organized not on the basis of ideology, but on a pragmatism wedded to a firm commitment to conservation and with an eye on the long-term vitality and well-being of the state. We need enduring policies and institutions that serve our people long after our time in power has ended.

Economic policies should be centered around the promotion of what could be termed “In-N-Out Burger” capitalism—that is, in favor of domestic, privately held companies that grow at a sustainable rate, treat their workers well, and offer quality products to their customers. No more toleration for tech companies housing barracks full of H1B serfs. They can hire Californians, or they can leave. 

We can reduce traffic, not by expanding the roads, but by aggressively incentivizing firms to allow telecommuting and by building mass-transit systems that actually are appealing to passengers. 

I am not opposed to school vouchers in principle, but we don’t have to settle for an exit alternative to our dismal public schools. We can and should campaign to make our schools great again. Not just academically, but in every respect. 

Take physical fitness, for example. Governor Gavin Newsom’s response to a growing percentage of California students scoring “not healthy” on physical education tests has been to call for the suspension of these tests. Our response should be to make California physical education a beacon for the nation once again by reintroducing the legendary La Sierra High School Physical Education program, but this time in every high school across the state. Politically, this may seem frivolous to some, but by shaping kids into healthy, vibrant, strong, confident young people we prevent them from falling into leftism, which after all is no longer a political orientation but an inferiority complex. 

As President Kennedy put it:

The harsh fact of the matter is that there is an increasingly large number of young Americans who are neglecting their bodies—whose physical fitness is not what it should be—who are getting soft. And such softness on the part of individual citizens can help to strip and destroy the vitality of a nation. For the physical vigor of our citizens is one of America’s most precious resources. If we waste and neglect this resource, if we allow it to dwindle and grow soft then we will destroy much of our ability to meet the great and vital challenges which confront our people. We will be unable to realize our full potential as a nation.

We should also propose an avenue for energetic youth to continue their studies beyond high school while participating in public service without incurring the debt or the brainwashing of a university. A California Conservation Corps that would award a University of California degree to participants in exchange for their service in forestry and conservation projects along with the completion of assigned readings and writing projects.  

We need to address the largely unspoken health crises of communities up and down the Golden State. 

Large-scale industrial agriculture has systematically poisoned the people of the San Joaquin Valley, which has the worst air pollution in America. You can see it as you descend the Grapevine into the valley, a thick brown haze hovering over Bakersfield.

The drinking water is contaminated with heavy metals and pesticide, herbicide, and fertilizer chemicals. The effects on wildlife are well documented: fish with lesions and deformities, intersex mice and frogs, baby birds born with exposed brains and deformed limbs.

Less publicized but more alarming are the effects on people. The San Joaquin Valley has the highest rates of childhood asthma in the country, along with higher rates of many other serious pediatric conditions. Cancer rates are high even among fit nonsmokers. The next Republican candidate for state attorney general might do well to consider pursuing criminal and civil penalties against agrochemical manufacturers seeking maximum damages on behalf of the state’s citizens. 

California should also implement its own set of standards for agricultural products. Prohibitions on the usage of glyphosate, atrazine, and other endocrine-disrupting agricultural chemicals. Policies that would encourage polyculture and regenerative grazing. Humane standards for the rearing and butchering of livestock. Encouragement of value-added products like artisanal cured meats and cheeses. Not only would this improve the health of the land and the people who live on it, but it would also raise the reputation of California’s agricultural products throughout the national and international markets which will ultimately be more profitable for farmers and farmworkers.

Latino voters can be won over in California, too. Winning them doesn’t involve pandering to them and certainly doesn’t involve caving on immigration issues. You simply have to talk to them.

The Path Back to Power

Many have given up hope altogether and resigned themselves to a “permanent Democratic majority.” But there are no permanent political majorities. If the situation were hopeless, Democrats wouldn’t need to propagandize as they do.

Demographics are not, in fact, destiny. Demographics make the current manifestation of right-wing politics in California untenable, but they do not make left-wing governance inevitable. The reason the Right has been unable to maintain its grip on power is that they either sabotage themselves or the public eventually forgets what necessitated putting the Right in power in the first place. Leftists, on the other hand, can never maintain their grip on power because they either sabotage themselves or fail to foresee the effects of policies that eventually create enough misery and disorder that the people throw them out. This is why I consider the Right to be in pole position now. 

Since California has experienced the “Brazilification” of its demographics, it’s helpful to look to the Right’s return to power in that country.

Brazil was a leftist bastion to a degree that would make many California Democrats blush. It’s no exaggeration to say that the country was quite literally run by communists. For sixteen years the Worker’s Party (PT) entrenched itself with a stranglehold on power that crept into the crown jewels of Brazil’s economy. It’s oil-and-gas giant, Petrobras, routinely was looted of billions of dollars to fill party coffers and fund the spread of communism all throughout Latin America. Election fraud and tampering were rampant—I personally witnessed votes being purchased in a favela, one liter of milk per vote. 

During these 16 years, right-wing parties in Brazil were plagued by infighting and dithering. Like the post-Schwarzenegger California GOP, they nominated one uninspiring center-right sacrificial lamb after another, to no avail. I even remember Brazil being touted as an example of the coming “Permanent Democratic Majority” in America. Then, something happened. 

A corruption investigation upended the political establishment and, because of a weakened institutional Right that no longer had the power to bother with gatekeeping, Jair Bolsonaro, a maverick congressman with a reputation as a far-right culture warrior, mounted an insurgent campaign for the presidency and won in a landslide. That he did it is impressive. Equally impressive is how he did it. Not by attempting a conventional campaign—he knew he could never match the unlimited funding and vast organization of the Left. So instead, he made it irrelevant.

Bolsonaro built a low-cost bootstrapped grassroots movement that was powered by people excited by his pro-family, anti-crime, anti-corruption, and anti-Communist message. He used social media brilliantly, and crucially, it allowed him to continue campaigning in the final stretch from his hospital bed as he recovered from wounds sustained in an assassination attempt. 

Latino voters can be won over in California, too. Winning them doesn’t involve pandering to them and certainly doesn’t involve caving on immigration issues.  You simply have to talk to them. Cory Gardner did this and beat an incumbent senator in Colorado. Ron DeSantis won Florida during the 2018 blue wave election by performing 13 points better than Rick Scott among Latinos. If Donald Trump had not outperformed Romney’s share of the Latino vote in Florida and Michigan, Hillary Clinton would be president.

And let’s not forget that in California Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom McClintock won 40 percent of the Latino vote in the 2003 gubernatorial recall, running against a Latino candidate who brazenly pandered to Latino voters to a degree that has not been matched since.

Other ethnic groups are also ripe for the picking. There are half a million Persians in Southern California. Another half-million Koreans. A half-million Vietnamese. A million-and-a-half Filipinos. Over 200,000 Armenians. None of these groups has any particular reason to support Democrats other than that Democrats keep asking for their votes. 

One of the single most instructive experiences I had in politics was when I was working as a campaign aide to a congressman whose district had one of the highest percentages of immigrant voters in the country. We were out making the rounds one day and he had me pull into a dingy strip mall with store signage in various languages—none of them English. I followed him inside a dry-cleaning shop where he was recognized by the shop owner who led us to a little office in the back. The congressman wasted no time in getting to the point. He told the shop owner that he appreciated the work he did running the local Vietnamese Association and that he would be greatly honored if he could count on his support in the upcoming election. The shop owner enthusiastically assured him that, yes he could count on his support and of course the association would unofficially support him as well. When we got back in the car, the congressman explained to me “People in this community won’t go to the polls—it’s not a habit for them and most are too busy with work, but the association will make sure they vote absentee. We just put 10,000 votes in the bank.” Sure enough on election night the Democrats were winning—then the absentees came in 5-1 for us and we buried them. All because our candidate went and asked. 

Nonethnic affinity and interest groups can be picked off as well. The film industry unions for one. Go to them with a plan for bringing filming back to California from the other states who’ve poached them, but in a way that bolsters labor. The bottom line is that all groups are malleable and have desires and fears to which we can speak.

A Long-Term Project

Leadership of the GOP must be put into the hands of people who not only have the vision and the will, but the appetite for the fight. We have to rebuild the party at the local level and take control of local governments to serve as showcases of our policies. We can use the proposition process to side-step Sacramento and take our agenda to the people, as well as to build networks and organizational power.  

No more uncontested races. Run in every election for every office from dog-catcher to governor. In districts where an “R” next to the name will lead to certain loss, mount covert campaigns as Democrats with the intention of switching back once the victor has been sworn in. 

We have to drive home to our base what mounting a successful statewide campaign looks like. No more purity spiraling. This is not some deep-red state where we can demand that Republican candidates repeat the mantras of our most conservative fantasies.

There is nothing moral about losing elections. We don’t have to change our principles on the issues that matter, but we do have to change our presentation. By tweaking the messaging and meeting the audience where they are, we can make our positions more palatable to a far broader swath of the electorate—most crucially, female voters.

For example, instead of coming off as angry and mean by vowing to wage war on undocumented labor, a winning candidate would rail against the exploitation of immigrants and promise to force employers to comply with labor regulations and pay for insurance, workers’ compensation, overtime, and so on. This accomplishes the same effect of removing the economic advantage of hiring illegal immigrants, but in a way that reduces the political costs of doing so.  

Last but most importantly, candidate quality matters. Our candidates from here on out need to stand in sharp contrast to the unattractive, sclerotic, dysgenic, gracelessly aging creature that is the California Democrat. We need candidates who are handsome, fit, and charismatic. And we need to get rid of the terrible, overpriced ad firms run by party consultants and instead tap the pool of incredibly talented industry creatives that we have in Los Angeles to generate appealing content. 

Realize this is a long-term project. Republican governance was not lost in a single election cycle and it is unlikely to return in just one cycle. It will take a “total war” mindset to pry the Golden State from the clutches of the Democratic establishment.

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