Carter Policy in Reagan Country

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.