Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Buyer's Remorse in California

The sorry saga of Arnold Schwarzenegger's reign of stupidity in California will mercifully conclude when he's defeated in his bid for reelection next year, and we can only hope that his departure will signal the end of California's unseemly habit of electing half-wit actors to be the chief executive officer of the state.

Schwarzenegger and his Republican cronies seized on Grey Davis' poor public approval ratings to force an expensive special election to recall Davis, and now the chickens have come home to roost as Schwarzeneggers' own polls are at the same low levels as those of Davis when Republicans were calling for his head. In the most recent Field Research poll, 58% of all Californians now disapprove of Arnold's performance (and it is a "performance" - a bad actor playing governor) with only 31% approving. He does slightly better among registered voters at 53/37, if one can consider a 37% approval rating to be encouraging. Certainly Scwarzenegger himself doesn't, as evidenced by his remarks in Sacramento yesterday.

"All of us in this building can share blame — all of us, including myself," Schwarzenegger said. "People make mistakes sometimes, and I think we learned there was a very clear message that we must work together. I am looking forward to that. The people … feel good when things work well."

Where was the "people make mistakes sometimes" magnanimity when Schwarzenegger and his Pete Wilson sloppy-second rejects were savaging Grey Davis? Where was the "we must work together" bonhomie when Schwarzenegger took the stage at the Republican National Convention in prime time and hurled "girlie men" insults at the Democratic voters in his own state where, he might be reminded, Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by a considerable margin?

There is actually little blame to be "shared". Schwarzenegger himself bears the burden for his own plummeting approval polls thanks to his attacks on the unions that represent nurses, educators, and state employees that took on such a tone of personal hostility it appeared that his grudge wasn't only against their unions but against the members themselves. Attacking nurses and teachers is hardly a formula for success, particularly as these are female-dominated professions and the violence of his rhetoric has reminded voters of his well-publicized disrepect for women. The $45 million dollar special election Schwarzenegger has called for November is wildly unpopular, being seen not only as an abuse of the initiative process but a drain on the state treasury, particularly when services are being cut throughout California.

Yes, the Schwarzenegger comedy routine is drawing to a close, but his rise is something that does involve blame that can be "shared" by Democrats. It's not a surprise that a state that congratulates itself for setting trends in popular culture would elect a pop culture cartoon character such as Schwarzenegger, even one who presented himself during his campaign as a buffoon and a clown. After years of Republican governors so deadly dull that you needed to be tasered to remain awake for their speeches (Deukmejian, Wilson), the Democrats responded by running candidates who equally failed to capture the imagination of the voters, featuring colorless stuffed suit bureaucrats (Feinstein, Davis) or party hacks (Bustamante). Californians, tired of being bored into a stupor by their governor, countered by putting an oaf into office. Democrats should take notice, and respond not with an oaf - that particular act clearly hasn't worked - but by someone who is willing to push the margins a bit, who can appeal to the younger voters of the state - critical if California is to remain Democratic in the next generation - and who isn't afraid to take on conventional wisdom and shake up Sacramento. Someone like a modern-day Jerry Brown, who was not only interesting (well, nutty) enough to engage the public but who was actually competent in his occasional lucid moments.

Does such a cutting edge Democrat exist in California today? Gavin Newsome is one, but the asleep at the switch, complacent and bloated California Democratic party will never have the vision to push for his candidacy. Look for the same ol' shit next year, with Bustamante or his ilk again being trotted out to bore the voters and keep them away from the polls in droves. The state Democratic party desperately needs reform, but I doubt they'll learn from the Schwarzenegger debacle. If they aren't careful, look for the emergence of a strong Green candidate next year, which will create the danger of a split liberal vote and the unthinkable - a full term of Arnold. Time for the Democrats in California to change or be left for dead.

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