Did he really think California voters were so deluded that they would willingly hand him the whip as well as the reins, or was he simply overcome by hubris?
Whatever its basis, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s special election was one of the crudest and clumsiest political moves in an era that is notable for misbegot political maneuvers.
From the moment he announced his candidacy for governor, Schwarzenegger talked about the need to cut the state budget, yet he was willing to spend $55 million of our money on an election whose sole beneficiary was himself.
Rather than giving any thought to rebuilding our once-peerless public schools, solving the heallh care crisis and improving public safety, he launched a bizarre attack on teachers, nurses, fire fighters and cops – the overworked, often underpaid everyday heroes, who regularly rank higher than, say, governors on both the popularity and necessity scales – suggesting that they were the principal causes of the state’s fiscal tangle.
And, most brazenly, his four initiatives, which were the basis for the special election, asked voters to betray themselves, their children and basic democratic principles. He called the initiatives “reform” measures, and the media dutifully took his word for it, but they weren’t reforms; together they amounted to an arrogant power grab.
As delineated in his propositions, Schwarzenegger’s notion of “fixing” the state was to undo the checks and balances that reside at the center of the democratic process by increasing gubernatorial power while reducing the power of both the legislature and the people.
But, to the governor’s obvious surprise, the voters didn’t buy it. Not for a minute. When he became governor, he was enormously popular – principally because he wasn’t Gray Davis, but as the months passed, he plummeted in the polls and, in the weeks before the election, only 30-plus percent of the people liked what he was doing.
No wonder. He refused to work with the legislature, called legislators “girly men,” boasted about kicking the nurses’ “butts,” and, in those and other ways, behaved more like a high school bully than the governor of the sixth richest economy in the world.
His propositions were the proverbial last straw.
Voters thrashed them all, and, in that way, put the governor on notice: California needs a capable, serious governor, not a ruler.
In a post-election press conference, Schwarzenegger more or less admitted that he’d made a mistake, took full responsibility for it and vowed to do better.
Whether he can, or will – especially since he’s alienated so many people – remains to be seen, but he might be well-advised to start reading scripts again, because right now he looks like a very lame duck.Meanwhile, three cheers for California voters who, once again, proved that they are far wiser than their so-called leaders.