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Carter Policy in Reagan Country

by Mytheos Holt, published

Watching the conduct of Governor Schwarzenegger with respect to California's economy, one often feels a painful desire to slap the former Cyborg across the face and snap, "Don't just do something, stand there!"

Unfortunately, the worst part is that if the governor obeyed such an injunction, it would arguably do more for California's economy than all the hysterics that Schwarzenegger and his cabinet are engaging in over the current problems.

Schwarzenegger would do well to remember the words of another former actor who once informed the American people that the most terrifying words in the English language were, "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help."

And there is little doubt about it – Schwarzenegger is not helping. From his absurd puppy tax to his unconvincing show of concern for California's unemployed, to his attempts at decisiveness, the Terminator is only terminating his party's chances for reelection in 2010. Granted, much of this is not directly Schwarzenegger's fault – the Legislature, for one, is apparently far too busy with internecine squabbles to actually do anything, and Schwarzenegger's party, sadly, is not doing anything to help. California's Republicans are busily auctioning off their mantle as "fiscal conservatives" to the highest bidder, a fact made all the more tragically hilarious when one considers that it was California's Democrats who had to propose a spending cut, while the Republicans were busily extolling the virtues of old-style Keynesian stimulus packages. Granted, the $8.2 billion proposed by the Democrats is hardly cause for celebration, but at least they were willing to trim something.

But sheer indignation will not solve this problem. One has to ask what brought California's government to the point where legislators feel comfortable
taking vacations in the middle of a crisis and where it's news that a Republican legislator holds the line on taxes. The answer is a tricky one to extract, but Schwarzenegger's style of governance may provide a clue.

It has become a trope of contemporary political discourse to refer to moderate Republicans who favor appeasement of Democrats as "Schwarzenegger Republicans." Considering Schwarzenegger's career as a tough-talking action star, the fact that his name is now being invoked as a nickname for the gutless is especially ironic, and even more so when one considers the legacy that Schwarzenegger will leave behind. When he took over the spot from then-Governor Gray Davis, Schwarzenegger had the most powerful mandate for reform a politician could have – he had been elected solely because the previous ruler had been unceremoniously dumped on the proverbial pavement.

He squandered this mandate almost completely. Having made a few timid steps toward reform such as repealing vehicle licensing fees, Schwarzenegger promptly found himself blocked by unions when he had the gall to begin moving toward substantive economic change, and rather than behave like the Governator of legend, Schwarzenegger caved in. Ironic that a man known for his knowledge of political history would ignore the lessons of Margaret Thatcher's exemplary culling of union fanaticism, but perhaps Schwarzenegger lacked the requisite woman's touch. "Girly man," indeed!

After calling an utterly pointless special election that did nothing other than repudiate social conservatives throughout California and make Schwarzenegger look like a resource-wasting glutton, the governor made the crowning mistake of his political career: He nominated a Democrat to the job of Chief of Staff. Thus began a long, painful process of surrender to California's special interests which, while it gave Phil Angelides a hard time going further to the left, served as a complete cop-out for those California residents looking for actual leadership. Despite the deceptive perfume of "bipartisanship" surrounding this behavior, all it has done is make the Democratic opposition so lazy that they feel quite comfortable skipping town, and has made Republicans feel absolutely no pressure to live up to the rhetoric they love to use in election campaigns.

After all, the governor doesn't do it. Why should they?

Ultimately, Schwarzenegger has fallen victim to a much more deadly Predator than any he ever faced on screen – the predator of paralyzing "consensus" and lack of conviction. It falls to his successor to fix these mistakes, but perhaps this will be easier than it looks. I hear "Terminator IV" is slated to make a killing at the box office – maybe that money can revive California's economy.

Too bad we now know the star is only acting.

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