State Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) is a political science graduate from UCLA who can quote Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th century German philosopher.
But it is the American founding fathers who put the passion in his words.
“I believe that wheel has come full circle and once again, a generation is called upon to proclaim liberty throughout all the land, and unto all the inhabitants thereof,” he said in a 2001 speech to the Leadership Institute in San Diego. “The study of politics must now consume all of us if we are to rise to the opportunity and the responsibility history and providence have thrust upon us when they placed us at this moment in time.”
McClintock has been writing down his thoughts in a body of work that bears the stamp of not so much a professional politician as a political pamphleteer keeping alive the Spirit of ’76.
In one of the issue papers archived on his state Web site, he rails against the 2002 state budget. He said the budget, adopted under cover of the state’s energy crisis, “should have provoked taxpayers to storm the docks looking for tea crates to vandalize.”
Government and Taxation
McClintock once identified a traumatic childhood recollection as the force behind his revulsion toward bigger government and higher taxes. It was an image of his mother bursting into tears as she calculated the family’s federal income tax bill. “The tears and just utter frustration she felt are something I’ll never forget,” McClintock told The Times in 1992. “It was as if everything she had worked for had gone up in smoke.”
That emotion has remained a constant in more than two decades of criticism of taxes.
“Californians already bear the 10th-highest tax burden per capita in the nation, yet this state ranks 50th in spending for roads,” he told the Los Angeles Daily News in a 1990 letter. “Our transportation crisis is not the fault of the taxpayers for not paying enough taxes. It is the fault of a completely distorted set of priorities set by this governor and this Legislature.”
Thirteen years later, a different Legislature received a similar lashing. “The budget now before us is a rotting porch just waiting to collapse,” McClintock said in July, on the eve of the Senate’s approval of the 2003-04 budget. “It rests on two decayed pillars that cannot stand: the illegal tripling of the car tax and the illegal borrowing of billions of dollars for ongoing expenses without a vote of the people.”
Yet in McClintock’s pantheon of California political heroes, none command greater esteem than the Democrats who built highways, universities and water works.
“These great public works weren’t cheap, but the giants of the Unruh generation were disciplined and focused,” McClintock wrote in 1999, referring to legendary Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh. “Gov. Pat Brown presided over the most extensive period of public construction in this state’s history. Yet when he left office, only 2.2% of the state general fund was devoted to debt service.”
He blames a later generation -- founded in Gov. Jerry Brown’s “small is beautiful” philosophy -- for abandoning California’s infrastructure, reasoning that “if we stopped building, people would stop coming.
“But people came anyway,” McClintock continued. “The greatest task before us, as we begin this 21st century, is to confront, challenge and change this radical ideology that has misguided our state since 1974.”
McClintock’s views on education meld the Declaration of Independence and Adam Smith’s bible of capitalism, “The Wealth of Nations.”
“Let’s begin with some self-evident truths,” he said in a 1999 treatise on what ails the schools. “First, education occurs not at the state or local level. It occurs with the individual child.” Factoring this and other truths through the prism of Smith’s “hidden-hand” economics, he came up with a new system designed to “pay teachers according to the number of students they attract.”
Would this encourage “cutthroat competition” among teachers? “Hopefully. Competition breeds excellence.... Will this reform pass this session? Of course not. A philosopher once said that new ideas must go through three phases. First they are ridiculed, then viciously attacked and finally accepted as self-evident truths.”
He told a group of constituents in 1989 that public financing of abortions for the poor was like “providing Scotch for the wino lying in the gutter.”
Explaining the remark in a 1990 interview, he said he was trying to counter the argument that if the state fails to provide abortions for the poor, it is denying them a choice.
“I said that there are many things that the poor cannot afford,” McClintock said in the interview. “You would not suggest that because winos cannot afford quality Scotch, that the government should provide it to them?”
McClintock supports the death penalty because, he says, it works, but he championed legislation that gave death row inmates the right to select lethal injection instead of the gas chamber.
It is “the only form of execution, which from our own life’s experience, we can conclude is entirely devoid of discomfort,” he argued.
He dismisses as liberal ideology the argument that the state’s tough three-strikes law could be used to unreasonably put someone away for life because of a minor crime.
“There are some on the left who believe this is unreasonable,” he wrote in a 2002 essay. “Their ideology has been trumped by reality. Californians are safer, their prisons are not overwhelmed, and there is a wealth of anecdotal evidence that after two strikes, many criminals leave the state for purely professional reasons.”
McClintock, whose wife is a minister in the family’s Sacramento-area church, bases his support of the “God” clause in the Pledge of Allegiance on concepts of the Enlightenment, rather than the Old Testament. “In the American view, there is a certain group of rights that are accorded absolutely and equally to every individual and that cannot be alienated by others,” he wrote in 2002. “The existence of these rights is beyond debate.... And their source is supreme -- ‘the Creator.’ ”
The Conservative Movement
Tracing contemporary events all the way back to the social upheaval of the Middle Ages, McClintock’s political philosophy places more trust in revolutionary zeal than the art of compromise.
“The tools that await this generation are greater than any we have known before,” he told the Leadership Institute. “If it was the printing press that made possible the age of revolution, well, what a puny thing it is next to the power of the Internet. The price of knowledge plummets, the cost of communication collapses, and now the political views of the American founders, so distasteful to the 20th century ruling class, are once again accessible on a hitherto unprecedented scale.”
Compiled by Times staff writer Doug Smith.