I waited in vain for Orly. We’d spoken twice that day over the phone, and Orly Taitz, leader of the birther movement and candidate for secretary of state in California’s Republican primary, had told me she’d be attending the Republican shindig at the Anaheim Hilton that evening. But that was when the Republican establishment was still in a mild panic over the possibility she would win. I suspect that losing by a disappointing margin—her opponent took about 75 percent of the vote—scotched her initial plans to show up. Either that or she was very stealthy.
And so it was that I found myself in a Hilton ballroom with a few hundred Carly Fiorina enthusiasts (if that’s the word—if I had over $5 million of my own money to burn on running for office, I suspect I could fund rather a lot of enthusiasm), enduring a tedious succession of bad speeches (“Change is coming to the state of California!”), and reflecting (over the blare of the rock-country hit, “Boot Scootin’ Boogie”) on the oddity that anyone should choose a career in politics. Indeed, those in attendance, waiting for Carly, looked only minimally interested in being there. And perhaps they weren’t even minimally interested in being there. Half of them looked like they’d set out for prom but had accidentally been left at the Hilton for a few decades.
Let’s be fair. There were some attempts to inject some life into the evening, such as when a few dozen campaign volunteers in red CARLY shirts took the stage and bounced and waved to “Billie Jean” and “Ladies Night.” Each waved an appropriately tailored sign—Asian Americans for Carly, Women for Carly, Entrepreneurs for Carly, African Americans for Carly, Veterans for Carly, and Jewish Voters for Carly. (After all, why take a chance on a word like “Jew”? It’s so … direct.) This lasted about 15 minutes.
And I was momentarily buoyed by a few scattered pieces of good in-state news. Proposition 14, which would create open primaries—and thus, it is hoped, reduce polarization—passed. (Or it might be good news. The consensus seems to be: Well, guess we can try that.) Rocky Delgadillo, a most unimpressive city attorney for Los Angeles, got only 10 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary for attorney general, solidly trounced by San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris. Mickey Kaus, in his Democratic challenge to Senator Barbara Boxer, won almost 100,000 votes, a level of support that should be inspiring to all fellow opinion journalists as we consider alternative careers with the possibility of payment.
But Carly Fiorina’s appearance was enough to dampen many good feelings. I don’t know what I expected, but I’d at least hoped for something that would challenge or interest or engage. That something didn’t come. Her acceptance speech offered no original idea, no rhetoric that didn’t seem lifted from some outdated RNC brochure. Some samples: “I believe that each person everywhere has enormous potential if they are given the freedom and the opportunity to fulfill it. Barbara Boxer believes that it is government that promotes potential, not the individual.” “I believe in lower taxes so we the people can best decide best how to spend and invest our hard-earned dollars. She believes that government can decide how best to spend your income.” And this: “I believe in the honor and heroism that has distinguished our armed services. From the day she entered Congress, Barbara Boxer has been a loud and cynical critic of America’s military.” Was there anything that was meant sincerely and not just cynically, that hinted that politics—while, yes, a game—isn’t just a game? It was hard to see it.
So I yearned for Orly. She might not be hinged, but at least she pursues her cause with conviction and originality. Whereas Carly Fiorina promises to encourage job creation, Orly Taitz informs us that Barack Obama has dozens of social security numbers, although he generally relies on a phony one from Connecticut. While Carly Fiorina complains about an “unaccountable bureaucracy in Washington, D.C,” Orly Taitz talks about corruption overtaking every institution of our country, from California’s current office of the secretary of state to the Obama White House and the federal courts. “I lived in a Communist country,” she told me over the phone. “It’s nothing new to me.”
To talk with Orly is to interact with one of those eccentric optimists that surely populate every nation, but find in this nation a particular sort of success. One day you’re getting the hell out of Moldova (Taitz’s land of birth), and the next you’re a rightwing dentist (which may be the only sort) and self-described “constitutional lawyer” in Orange County making appearances on every cable channel in the United States hollering about birth certificates and affidavits from Kenyan ministers. The world may be against you, but you keep going, brushing off setback after setback and launching yourself back into the fray. It’s gloriously American, which is also to say, in the case of most such personalities, that’s it utterly nutty.
And nutty may be the best choice for now. For those of us who would like to see a sane and credible opposition party to Democrats—as opposed to simply a Democratic Party that tries to fill in for its own opposition and negotiate with itself—the Fiorina-Taitz continuum is a reminder of the choices currently on offer from today’s GOP. There is no conservative party anymore; there is simply a rightwing party separated into cynics and zealots. It’s Mitch McConnell or Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina or Orly Taitz—take your pick. And for better or worse—well, worse—I pick Orly.
T.A. Frank is an editor at the Washington Monthly and an Irvine Fellow at the New America Foundation.