Having myself written newspaper columns since I was in my 20s, I have some sympathy for Sen. Tom McClintock these days. McClintock, whose interest in conservative politics kicked in well before puberty, entered the public arena as a high-school age letter-to-the-editor writer to the old Thousand Oaks News-
Chronicle in the 1970s. Then-editor Marv Sosna was so taken with the young man's flair for political essay writing that he signed him on as a columnist. He wrote the column while a student at UCLA.
One column, penned Aug. 18, 1977, touched the third rail of American politics. More than touched it in fact; it grabbed the rail with both hands and attempted to snap it in two. McClintock, then 21, described Social Security as "nothing more than a tax levied on youth." He went on the write that the system amounted to a "theft of youth's future earnings to pay for the avarice of the New Establishment."
The campaign of his opponent in the lieutenant governor's race this fall, Democratic Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, dug up that column and lifted this nugget for an TV commercial that seeks to portray McClintock as an extremist. McClintock, the ad says, once described Social Security as "morally bankrupt."
McClintock, unlike many politicians, hasn't softened his rhetoric much with age. Still, one wonders if, at age 50, he might reflect that maybe there's a better way to criticize the retirement safety net of millions of California voters. One also must wonder about the fairness of using an intentionally provocative column -- and, remember, that's what such columns are supposed to be -- as evidence of what McClintock may or may not believe nearly 30 years later.