What would Ronald Reagan think about the upcoming election to recall California Gov. Gray Davis?
With polls showing Hollywood superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger claiming an early lead in the political free-for-all that has 247 reported candidates jockeying for a place on the Oct. 7 ballot, many wonder about the opinion of the state’s only actor-turned-governor.
President Ronald Reagan
The Ventura County Star put the question to the man widely considered Reagan’s definitive biographer, Lou Cannon.
“I can’t imagine Reagan would favor recall,” Cannon told the paper. “There’s nothing conservative about recall. It’s radical. Reagan was not a radical. Reagan was conservative in the old-fashioned sense.”
Reagan was governor of California from 1967 to 1975 before he became the 40th president of the United States, serving from 1981 to 1989.
Due to his battle with Alzheimer’s disease, he has not made a public appearance for several years.
Cannon, a longtime Washington Post correspondent who has just completed his fifth book on “The Gipper,” told the paper he saw several similarities between current events in California and when Reagan was in residence at the governor’s mansion. Just as now, the state faced budget woes, but a $1 billion tax increase thwarted rumblings of a recall.
“Reagan never would have let it come to this,” the paper quotes Cannon as saying. “In fairness, there are a lot of other governors who wouldn’t have let it come to this, including Pete Wilson and Jerry Brown.”
But radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh begs to differ with Cannon’s take.
Citing a 1990 article Reagan penned for the California Journal titled “The Creative Society and a free people,” Limbaugh said on his syndicated program today he thought Reagan would not have had a problem with the recall.
“In the past, and more so in the future, California will continue to hold a special place in the hearts of freedom-loving men and women around the globe,” Reagan wrote. “We symbolize the full flowering of democracy, the true trust of the everyday citizen. California’s provision for direct democracy through the initiative process, ballot propositions, and recalls of government officials are but a dream to those suffering under the iron boot of repression.”
The former governor described his vision of the kind of government he had worked toward establishing in the state as the “Creative Society,” in which leaders would put faith in the “collective wisdom and genius of our citizens.” This contrasted with his view of the Great Society as a bureaucracy growing ever larger in an effort to become “omnipotent.”
“Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem,” Reagan famously declared.
As an example of citizen initiative, Reagan applauded the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 as “the lightning bolt that ignited the tax revolt” in California and across the country.
“As a recurring theme in our history, once again the people led the charge and brought about needed change,” he wrote.
Ronald Reagan on 1966 Newsweek cover.
Part of Reagan’s legacy is that he’s made the candidacy of movie stars the likes of “The Terminator” more plausible in voters’ minds. A political novice in 1966, Reagan managed to unseat then-Gov. Pat Brown.
In published memoirs Reagan summed up the Democrat’s campaign as: “What is an actor doing seeking an important job like the governorship of California?”
“When Pat Brown commissioned a television commercial in which he told a group of small children, ‘I’m running against an actor, and you know who killed Abe Lincoln, don’t you?’ I knew he knew he was in trouble,” he wrote.
While many may jump to the conclusion star power sells in the Golden State, Limbaugh asserts it’s conservatism that rules the day and chides Republicans for not realizing it.
“Here’s the guy that nobody ever heard of coming back from 30 points down,” he remarked on his show following businessman Bill Simon’s win in California’s Republican primary last year. “Why? He’s a conservative! There’s a lesson here for the national Republicans; there’s a lesson here for the White House; there’s a lesson here for a whole bunch of people who want to win elections to learn from.”
As WorldNetDaily reported, Simon overcame long odds and a 30-point poll deficit in a month to catapult past former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, before being defeated by Democrat Davis in November.
“Reagan, when he ran for governor, he was dismissed just like Simon – too right wing,” said Limbaugh.
Reagan endured harsh rhetoric from members of his own party before winning the primary. In his memoirs, he lamented the lingering split between conservatives and moderates in the California GOP:
“The personal attacks against me during the primary finally became so heavy that the state Republican chairman, Gaylord Parkinson, postulated what he called the Eleventh Commandment: ‘Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.’ It’s a rule I followed during that campaign and have ever since.”
WorldNetDaily has reported acting may be the only parallel between former governor Reagan and gubernatorial candidate Schwarzenegger. In contrast to Reagan’s conservatism, Schwarzenegger says he’s “very liberal” on social issues and supports abortion, backs adoption by homosexuals, approves of some gun-control measures and spoke out against the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.
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