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All Things in Moderation

Apr
14
2004

On the eve of what could be a big victory – the resolution of California’s nasty and expensive workmen’s compensation insurance system – let’s take a few minutes to consider Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a politician. This is no joke. And neither is he.
Schwarzengger understands how to win votes, on the street and in the legislature. Toward voters, Schwarzenegger is charming and patient, explaining that his candidacy has begun to interest more people in politics and government, a good thing.


“So now they’re aware of what’s going on, and because of that, when you say, ‘I need your help,’ you bring them in and you make them as important as you are. Because you say, ‘Hey, you have the power. Let’s all make the decision together.’ It shouldn’t be just me there sitting. I need you too.”
With the legislature – particularly the Republicans – he is highhanded and threatening. Democrats, who run the place like this because they’re still in control, bargaining with the Gov. Republicans in the minority, are less enthusiastic. But, well, that only lasts so long. They got no where else to go. And he knows it.
Consider this comment, posted by Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Weintraub a few weeks ago:
“In my head, everything is clear. You see, the thing you have to understand is, I have to look at it – to be smart about this – to look at the whole picture. Which means that you have to look at all the problems that are potentially coming up. And all the things that you’re negotiating with the legislators. You have to look at the whole thing. Workers’ comp is one thing. The budget is another thing. Then there’s energy…We have to look at the overall picture…Everything falls into place if you look at the overall picture. If you just piecemeal it, you just look at one at a time really close and you don’t look at the other things, with blinders on, that’s when you start making mistakes and start scrambling. And you don’t want to scramble.”

When was the last time you heard a pol talk that honestly and intelligently? Yeah. Me neither.
Schwarzenegger is, above all, a pragmatic businessman; a guy who is interested in getting the job done. Remember, he doesn’t come out of the Hollywood studio system like Ronald Reagan to whom he is often (wrongly) compared. Schwarzenegger comes of out of the free-agent, packaged Hollywood where the deals the stars make are often more important than the roles they pick. Remember, this is the guy who told Tim Russert that the number one thing he learned from Hollywood was sales: moving tickets. Business guys like Schwarzenegger – Progressive Libertarians – aren’t interested in why you bought a ticket, just that you did.
Combine this with some quiet talk going on within the Democratic Party here in California about the need for Democrats to move out of stasis to, once again, become the party of change and ideas. This isn’t being shouted from the hilltops but the Silicon Valley way of doing things – best articulated by state Controller Steve Westly – sounds a lot like Schwarzengger: Bring more people to the process, gett away from set party lines, get the job done, run the state, improve the schools. Do what needs to be done without spending an arm and a leg. And do it now, dammit.
It’s got a national echo, too. No less an authority than Time’s Joe Klein – he’s having a particularly good run these past few weeks – has suggested that Democratic Nominee John Kerry’s boldest move might be one Schwarzengger, with moderate Dems like Westly at his side, has already sketched out. It is, by the way, almost precisely the course that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has charted for pretty much the same reason: Partisan bickering has driven normal people out of politics and moderate, centrist pols who want to get things done, rather than score points with the party poo-bahs, are hamstrung by the lack of power and authority. Here’s Klein:
The most daring promise Kerry can make involves a matter of style, not substance: peace in our time—in Washington. An end to the berserk partisanship that has overtaken the nation, a return to creative moderation…A radical move to the middle, a campaign that looks and sounds different from the usual partisan claptrap—one that features more ideas like Kerry’s proposed reduction in the corporate tax in return for corporate-loophole closing—may be John Kerry’s only chance to transcend the swamp gas that is threatening to engulf this long, long political year.
Kerry’s not going to do that. As Micah Sifrey is pointing out Kerry doesn’t have the nerve. But, Schwarzengger does. And in a nation that’s increasingly made up of immigrants – immigrants who may soon be able to vote – Schwarzenegger is a potent political force.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 11:35 AM | Permalink

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