Why So Unserious?

In the recent blockbuster The Dark Knight,
the by-this-point infamous Joker sidles up to the permanently scarred
Harvey Dent and expresses his hope that “There won’t be any hard
feelings between us, Harvey.” The Joker’s reasoning for why Dent should
not blame him for the mutilation of Dent’s face and the death of Dent’s
girlfriend is that the Joker was “sitting in [Police Commissioner]
Gordon’s cage” and “didn’t rig those charges” at the time it happened.
The defense is laughable, and Dent makes as much clear.

But it’s no less laughable than any defense that both Gov.
Schwarzenegger and California’s Democratic lawmakers could levy over
their conspicuous absence
from California at the eleventh hour before the budget crisis finally
explodes into impossibility. According the Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Alert
web log, Schwarzenegger and the Democratic leaders spent
the weekend up in Washington, either partying it up with newly minted
President Obama or being thanked for their devotion to the inestimably important cause of finger-painting and crayons.

If the Joker is famous for asking, “why so serious”, than
California’s people should be demanding an answer to the question of
why the governor and his Democratic adversaries are so unseriousabout
fixing California’s budget crisis as to spend an entire weekend
doing such trivial things. And the person who should be most
hard-pressed to answer this question is the governor. After all, the
Democrats have a political excuse for their flippancy, since the
governor’s loss is most likely their electoral gain. That, and they
probably think that once they get back, money will start growing on
trees the way it did under FDR and we’ll be in the clear.

But in Schwarzenegger’s case, there really is no excuse. He of all
people should know that there are scores of Democrats, not to mention a
scandalously over-indulgent press
lining up to take his spot away from him using whatever he can give
them as firepower. He should also know, given that he just talked about
the need for a “year of political courage” in his State of the State
speech, that now is hardly the time to go coasting about the country
collecting awards, smiling for cameras and reliving his glory days as
the Terminator. Now is the time to grab the State, mouth the usual
taciturn line, “Come with me if you want to live” (sounds appropriate
right about now) and steamroller it through recovery.

And yet, mysteriously, Schwarzenegger is doing the opposite of what
he should be doing — getting awards, resting on his laurels and appointing people to jobs with six figure salaries
and duties which are so nebulously defined even the job holders don’t
know what they do! Why? Why, after all that heated fighting, would
Schwarzenegger do this?

The answer will be counter intuitive, and it is this: Democracy. The
governor knows he can’t pass any sort of budget plan without the
Democrats, since they have a majority in California’s assembly, and
Schwarzenegger also knows that his own party has no plans of listening
to him, so their votes are not leveraged either.

He is effectively
stuck between a political rock and a hard place, and is doing the only
thing he can do – playing along with the people who really
power. On some level, it’s a good thing Schwarzenegger is behaving like
this, since it calls attention to the fact that he might not be
if the Democrats (whose majority he needs in order to be effective)
weren’t doing so. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that political
incentives have made it such that the Democrats, who apparently think
they can pin the crisis on Schwarzenegger, will not put in the serious
effort necessary to fix this problem because they would rather see
Republicans lose than California’s government win.

And so, much like the traumatized Harvey Dent, I find myself
accepting that the attempts by these schemers to control things really
are pathetic.