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Celebrate! : Orange County's First 100 Years : Forging An Identity : A Tilt To The Right

May 22, 1988|JOSEPH N. BELL | Bell is a free-lance author who writes a column for The Times' Orange County Life section.

In the '60s and '70s, Orange County saw itself as the last bastion of free-enterprise individualism in the United States, an attitude that became steadily more militant. There were a lot of lynchings--although the rope was made not of hemp but of political dialectic.

If a bumper sticker had been created to catch the flavor of Orange County politics between 1955 and 1980, a classified advertisement in The Times in 1963 would have served nicely. It read: "Wanted: conservative pediatrician to establish practice in the Newport-Mesa area. No one-worlders need apply."

That's what Orange County politics was up to for those 25 years: exorcising what it perceived as the "one-worlders" in its midst. The campaign was noisy, colorful, frequently destructive, often hysterical, and so highly visible that it brought the Eastern press out to write gleefully about the Orange County "nut house." It's a reputation that--deserved or not--Orange County will have to live with for a long, long time.

There were reasons. Probably nowhere else in the world did the agrarian roots of the past come so quickly into violent conflict with the urbanization of the future as they did in Orange County in the 1960s and '70s.

Orange County regarded--and to a large extent still regards--itself as the last bastion of free-enterprise individualism in the United States, an attitude that became steadily more militant as the county washed reluctantly into the 20th Century on a wave of mass migration.

The county's reaction to these hordes of newcomers pouring down the newly built Santa Ana Freeway was captured graphically in the early 1960s when the Fountain Valley City Council enacted two ordinances to protect its chastity from the imminent invasion of left-wing outsiders. One called for the firing, without right of appeal, of any employee initiating or advocating the formation of a labor union among municipal employees. The other required all stores selling merchandise from any one of 11 nations designated as Communist-controlled to buy a $1,000 license and post signs (with letters six inches high) saying the goods were produced in Communist countries.

About the same time, bumper stickers on the streets of Orange County were heavy on: "Help Get U.S. out of U.N.," "Don't Worry--They're Still 90 Miles Away," "Help JFK Stamp Out Free Enterprise," "No Aid to Tito" and "I Miss Ike--Hell, I Even Miss Truman."

A school principal who insisted on anonymity (most school people in Orange County did) noted in the early '60s: "These communities that have grown so rapidly still have many of the elements of a mob."

Indeed they did, and there were a lot of lynchings in the county in the 1960s and '70s--although the rope was made not of hemp but of political dialectic.

Probably the most flamboyant examples of the political excesses of Orange County have taken place in the 40th Congressional District, which stretches roughly from Newport Beach to Oceanside and from the coast inland to the Saddleback Valley. It was represented for 17 years by a slight, ascetic Santa Ana lawyer named James B. Utt, who, in the midst of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, called President John Kennedy a "pathological liar" and was rewarded with a resounding reelection to the House of Representatives.

Utt opposed the federal income tax (he introduced a constitutional amendment to repeal it), foreign aid and the United Nations. He voted against the Eisenhower civil rights bill and twice proposed an amendment to the Constitution declaring: "This nation devoutly recognizes the authority and law of Jesus Christ, Saviour and Ruler of Nations, through Whom are bestowed the blessings of Almighty God." (Utt thoughtfully included a waiver that Jews, agnostics and other non-believers might sign and thus retain their status as good Americans.)

His newsletters to his constituents--now collectors' items--fell somewhere between Kafka and Alice in Wonderland. Typical were repeated warnings that sex education and rock 'n' roll music were part of a Communist conspiracy to destroy America, that Communists had infiltrated all levels of the clergy, and that black U.N. troops supposedly working with the U.S. Army in a maneuver called "Operation Water Moccasin" posed an imminent danger to the state of Georgia--and probably the whole nation.

He also once told CBS-TV that Jessica Mitford had served the Communist cause by writing "The American Way of Death."

The citizens of Orange County loved him because he was out on the front lines fighting the demons they feared most: Creeping Socialism, Progressive Education, the Criminal Communist Conspiracy, the Godless United Nations and the Diabolical Left-Wing Press. He probably would have been reelected forever, but he died suddenly in March, 1970, throwing his seat into a power struggle between Assemblyman Robert Badham, state Sen. John G. Schmitz and state Republican Chairman Dennis Carpenter. Schmitz won--an unlikely choice even for Orange County.

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