The nation’s most frenzied electoral battle since the 2000 presidential election — the effort to recall California Gov. Gray Davis — offers dramatic evidence that the GOP is intellectually bankrupt.

The campaign to recall Davis was sponsored, led and funded by GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, whose name will be on the recall ballot as a gubernatorial candidate on Oct. 7. Issa is known more for losing a U.S. Senate primary race than for his ideas. Other recall Republicans offer more of the same.

There’s actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose sole political feat is a law that grants subsidies to public schools. After misleading voters for weeks, Schwarzenegger decided that a late-night talk show was the most appropriate forum in which to announce his candidacy for governor of the largest state in the nation. A candidate who presents his mastery of public relations as a substitute for an agenda begs not to be taken seriously.

There’s former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, whose tenure running America’s second largest city is not known for a single, defining principle. Instead, Riordan is the big city Republican who endorsed a Democrat, Feinstein, for reelection — and he is the Republican who failed to win the GOP gubernatorial primary last year despite the Republican President’s endorsement.

There is also the man who clobbered Riordan in the primary — Bill Simon, who failed to establish any real difference with Davis in the general election. Though there are other Republicans whose names have been mentioned, not one of the GOP’s prominent would-be candidates explicitly advocates any coherent philosophy.

This is the core of the Republican problem. From more subsidies for public schools to restrictions on property rights, there isn’t one major Democratic Party premise that dominant recall Republicans do not share. Recall Republicans aim to take down America’s least popular governor by embracing the governor’s Big Government philosophy.

To be sure, Davis’s liberalism has caused one calamity after another: the nation’s first attempt to prescribe which vehicle each person drives, outlawed washing machines and, of course, higher taxes — including a tripling of the state’s car tax. Californians deserve an antidote to Gray Davis. Instead, they face a band of wannabes.

Not long ago, the GOP offered an alternative to Big Government: individual rights, which were once implicit as the Republican Party’s premise. The Republican philosophy was represented by the late Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, who opposed Medicare, favored a woman’s right to an abortion, and promoted a strong defense. With the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, religion replaced individual rights as the guiding Republican philosophy.

To the extent Americans have resisted theocratic notions of government, the GOP’s religious right domination is mixed with pragmatism, resulting in a Republican Party whose goal is a smaller welfare state under God. The arch proponent of this blend is the GOP’s standard-bearer, faith-based President Bush, who is pushing the largest expansion of Medicare since it was enacted in 1965.

Contrary to Jefferson’s contention that the best government is that which governs the least, today’s Republicans increase public school subsidies. While Goldwater opposed Medicare, today’s Republicans expand it. Individual rights — the right to own property, to make money and to be left alone — have no meaningful place in the Republican Party.

Goldwater’s defiant cry that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue, has been abandoned. Before the party that cheered Goldwater at the 1964 San Francisco convention recalls California’s governor, the GOP must restore individual rights as their essential philosophical principle. Then, Republicans will win elections — or, in losing, they will at least have been right.

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Scott Holleran is a writer and journalist. His articles have been published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal. Visit his Web site at