Good morning, it's Feb. 19, 2021 -- a Friday, the day of the week when I reprise a quotation meant to be inspiring or elucidating. Today's comes from an old California pol named John G. Schmitz. Not because I share his politics -- he was a John Bircher -- but because, irrespective of his right-wing nuttery, Schmitz was a skilled practitioner of political humor.
A Dabney Coleman look-alike who died 20 years ago at age 70, Schmitz didn't laugh only at his rivals, either. His wit was frequently directed at himself, something sorely lacking in 21st century American civic life.
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area when the rivalry with Southern California truly meant something. This was before San Jose eclipsed San Francisco in population and San Diego (not Los Angeles) had the temerity to bill itself as "America's Finest City." To a Northern Californian, however, no place on the West Coast seemed as alien as Orange County. It was known as the birthplace of Richard Nixon; a Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan bastion; and a hotbed of support for the John Birch Society, an outfit so conservative that William F. Buckley termed it "far removed from common sense."
But local Republicans in those days did not suffer from being tagged as Birchers. When his membership was unearthed, John G. Schmitz, then a state legislator from Santa Ana, puckishly told the Sacramento press corps that he'd merely been seeking the middle-of-the-road vote in Orange County.
On another occasion, when he met two fellow arch-conservatives for lunch and found them wearing brown suits, he quipped, "I didn't know we were supposed to come in uniform." In today's media climate, this self-deprecating reference to pre-World War II Nazi Germany would be greeted with faux outrage by commentators who would claim with straight faces that Schmitz had "admitted" to being a fascist.
Although Schmitz would become a congressman and even a presidential candidate, his own audiences weren't always sure when he was kidding, though. Sometimes he didn't seem to know himself. After being outed as a man with a mistress who bore him two out-of-wedlock children (Schmitz and his wife were parents to six children), this defender of American morality proclaimed, "I ought to get the Right to Life Man of the Year award for this."
Among the Republicans whom Schmitz considered too liberal were his fellow Californians Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Don't even get me started on what Birchers said about Dwight Eisenhower. Well, I brought it up, so here goes: It was a dogma of the far-right in those days that Ike was a communist dupe, if not some sort of "Manchurian candidate." And Nixon was his vice president! This was all farce, of course, but it produced one of the most humorous lines in 20th century politics.
It happened when reporters asked Schmitz what he thought of Nixon going to China. "I have no objection to President Nixon going to China," he deadpanned. "I just object to his coming back."
For once, Schmitz had said something liberals could agree with. And it's our quote of the week.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.