It is interesting to note the major parallels between the political careers of Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Both earned fame as macho movie stars – Reagan on a horse and Arnold as a bionic action hero. Both are former liberals turned conservative. Both parlayed their name recognition and communication skills into the California governorship – each defeating an incumbent Democrat to get there. Both promised to reduce government, trim the bureaucracy and balance the budget.
For Reagan, reining in government was more than a promise, it was a passion. The man truly detested the bureaucracy. For example, after being shot by David Hinckley outside the Washington Hilton and hours later coming out of surgery, Reagan was informed by a top aide, “Don’t worry Mr. President, the Federal Government continues to function as usual.” To which a groggy Reagan replied, “Oh no.”
When Reagan arrived in Sacramento years earlier he sought a variety of budget cuts, including a long list of whammies (welfare cheats, the state universities, tax cheats, the prisons). I do not recall Governor Reagan taking on the unions directly, although the unions did object to many of his policies. Early in his governorship, Reagan tried a novel “Volunteer Saturday,” on which state offices were kept open and state employees were encouraged to donate a day’s work to help with a budget crunch. Participation in the one-day effort was about ten percent. Looking back, it may have been naïve, even a publicity stunt, but one cannot help but admit that Volunteer Saturday was very creative – a lot more creative than tired old union bashing.
During the Gray Davis recall debates, candidate Schwarzenegger made his own promises to downsize government, although he never mentioned unions as a Big Evil. The Governor did promise to appoint a commission (which he did) that would identify “billions and billions in government waste” that The Terminator would eliminate by “blowing up the boxes.” The commission did find a long list of suspect state agencies and boards that could be consolidated or eliminated to streamline government. But these recommendations are not found in the current propositions in the special election called by Governor Schwarzenegger. Instead, we have Proposition 75 which attempts to make it harder for unions to donate to political campaigns – a proposal that has pitted our cinematic action hero against the real action heroes in nursing, fire fighting, crime fighting and education.
Ronald Reagan was no darling of organized labor, his breaking of the Air Traffic Controllers Union being the low point. But history notes that in his successful 1984 Presidential reelection bid, Ronald Reagan won the national endorsement of the Teamsters Union. This proves that, given the right circumstances, a conservative Republican can win major union endorsement. Organized labor is neither monolithic nor automatically Democratic in its support.A final parallel between Ronald and Arnold merits mention. As a result of their acting careers, both were card carrying union members – of the Screen Actors Guild. (Same is true of both of their wives.) Indeed, should Arnold’s downward spiral continue and he find himself switching back to his previous acting career, his union card will be his ticket to future employment, just as his union negotiated and policed the big buck residuals that arrive in his mailbox.