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Saturday, June 07, 2003

Proposition 13 and the Rise of Modern Conservatism -Boy, does tempest ever fugit. Patrick Ruffini and Bill Hobbes note that it was 25 years ago Friday that California passed Proposition 13, which capped property tax increases to 2% a year and moved them back to 1975 levels. I’m not sure if it was Prop 13’s passage that lead to Reagan’s election two years ago, but the general malaise and distrust of government that existed at the time did. One of the things that the new left hippie crowd did in the 60s is to challenge authority. As I came of age in the 70s, abuses and dysfunctions of government became easy to see, as we saw the CIA and FBI raked over the coals for abuses of authority, the Watergate scandal bring down a president and a stagnant economy reeling over increasing oil prices and a general lack of direction. While many of the problems of government were looked at from the left as an autocratic and patriarchal system that needed to be made transparent and more democratic, the right also got more ammunition that the government was spending too much of the public’s money and doing a poor job of it as well. Fans of the status quo became few and far between. While he wasn’t the man to fix this, Jimmy Carter was at least able to put a finger on the issue in his 1979 “malaise” speech
We remember when the phrase "sound as a dollar" was an expression of absolute dependability, until 10 years of inflation began to shrink our dollar and our savings. We believed that our Nation's re sources were limitless until 1973, when we had to face a growing dependence on foreign oil. These wounds are still very deep. They have never been healed. Looking for a way out of this crisis, our people have turned to the Federal Government and found it isolated from the mainstream of our Nation's life. Washington, D.C., has become an island. The gap between our citizens and our Government has never been so wide. The people are looking for honest answers, not easy answers; clear leadership, not false claims and evasiveness and politics as usual. What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well financed and powerful special interests. You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends. Often you see paralysis and stagnation and drift. You don't like, and neither do I. What can we do? First of all, we must face the truth, and then we can change our course. We simply must have faith in each other, faith in our ability to govern ourselves, and faith in the future of this Nation. Restoring that faith and that confidence to America is now the most important task we face. It is a true challenge of this generation of Americans.
Carter might have wanted to be the honest and clear leader, his vision of the future wasn’t up to the challenge, giving us Ronald Reagan, who I wish I had voted for in 1980 with two decades of 20/20 hindsight. At a time when American confidence had been beat around by the Soviets, OPEC, Watergate and the American left, Reagan was the man to give that honest and clear leadership that was needed at the time. Prop 13 was merely a phlegm-filled cough stemming from the economic and emotional bronchitis that had hit the US in the late 70s; people were looking for a cure, and thankfully, the cure came from the right. Had a leftist more capable and less tainted than Ted Kennedy ran against Carter in the Democratic primaries of 1980, people might have been ready to accept him. However, God smiled upon us and brought Reagan into office. We needed the 70s to wring a lot of the statist bias out of our politics; had Carter gotten a second term, the history of the last quarter-century would have had the US economy and military look much more like Europe than the US. However, the dysfunctional nature of our government came clearer at the time, allowing the US to move to a lower-tax, more-free-market system. Prop 13 was one of the first moves of that era, but it was a symptom of a distrust of government rather than a cause of it.

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