Because 13 strikes us as a more appropriate number than 10 for expunging sin, we suggest the addition of three more self-rating Website categories, each of which has now been elevated to the level of public moral scrutiny: Placing Your Child in an Ill-Fitting Car Seat, Tolerating the Use of Tobacco Products, and Explicitly or Implicitly Advocating an Unbalanced Federal Budget.

The Message Is the Message
Nothing in politics is quite as edifying (or entertaining) as watching the losers of the last election try to figure out where they went wrong and how they are going to regroup for the next battle. The viewing was particularly choice last weekend as 1,500 of California's Republican faithful gathered in Sacramento for the state party's semiannual convention and factional bloodletting. While the GOP instinct for fratricide is always problematic (two breakaway groups -- one to the right of the ultra-conservative party leadership, and one to the left -- are planning separate conventions later this spring), the proceedings were marked by a certain realpolitik, a sense that electoral recovery in 1998 and 2000 will require burying the hatchet someplace other than in each other's heads.

Three days of soul-searching produced the following diagnoses for the 1996 debacle: lack of GOP heroes, lack of GOP guts, lack of Ronald Reagan, lack of "rapid message response team" to counteract "Clinton lies," and "media bias." Translation? The GOP message was fine, but the delivery needs reworking to make it more attractive to women and minority voters.

Attorney General Dan Lungren, thus far the party's only declared gubernatorial candidate for 1998, summed up the proposed new direction with a call for a massive "descarification effort." As he exhorted California Republicans to walk largely minority precincts in South Central and East Los Angeles, Lungren also suggested that success would come "not by changing our principles, but by articulating our principles."

But oh, that articulation can get dicey, as a panel of national GOP political consultants demonstrated during a lengthy dissection of how the party's stands on affirmative action and immigration affected California voters in '96. Santa Barbara Assemblyman Brooks Firestone scolded the panel for its references to "illegal immigration" instead of illegal entry, and "affirmative action" rather than quotas and preferences. "Sloppy terminology," he said.

And sloppy thinking, we might add. In the short term, cleaning up its rhetorical act makes sense for the party. Over the long haul, however, California's demographics will force Republicans to deal with policies as well. The ones they're wedded to at the moment alienate the very people they need to attract.

Phyllis Orrick and Susan Rasky can be reached at SF Weekly, Attn: Unspun, 425 Brannan, San Francisco, CA 94107; phone: (415) 536-8139; e-mail: porrick@sfweekly.com.

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