LAT Business Columnist: Schwarzenegger Bored by Government, Only Interested in the Trappings of Power

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been getting nothing but bad press here in California for the past few weeks – all of it is richly deserved, of course. Seems a lot of people are fed up with his bad acting when applied to governance – “I’m not the governor. I just play him on TV.”

Now comes a new fusilade of criticism from Los Angeles Times business page columnist Michael Hiltzik that really nails Schwarzenegger for his antics and poor performance. If you’re still a fan of the Gubernator, read this and weep:

One by one, the governor’s grand initiatives have come apart. The box-exploding state reorganization? Abandoned. The balanced state budget? A non-starter. Government without special interests? A joke. Bipartisanship in Sacramento? Never happened… This [poor performance] is probably not a bad thing, because like virtually every other policy initiative Schwarzenegger has proposed since his election, these reforms generally have been carelessly conceived and half-baked in execution.

As governor, Schwarzenegger has played his hand recklessly because he believes he has a deep reservoir of support from the voters, whom he confuses with his fans of his movies. It was his fans who got him elected, but most of those guys (and they were mostly young males) don’t usually show up at the polls. He’s coasted through his first term, always assuming he could go over the heads of the pols and pundits by taking his issues to “da peepul” via ballot measures.

This is Schwarzenegger’s preferred method of governance, because it doesn’t require subjecting a proposal to the battle-testing of the legislative process or to public debate. It only requires the spending of money — which [business groups that support the Governor] can provide in abundance — and the presentation on television of Schwarzenegger’s electric grin.

But here’s what many of us have been saying about Schwarzenegger from the time he entered the race to become governor:

All that Schwarzenegger seems to enjoy is the opportunity to surround himself with attention and pomp — the trappings of political power, the appearances before huge crowds, the slavish interviews by Oprah and Katie. He’s like one of those admirals in Gilbert and Sullivan, who adorn themselves in elaborate uniforms dripping with medals but don’t know the first thing about going to sea. (And don’t want to know.)…

His lack of understanding that politics is the art of building consensus and reaching compromise over the long term explains why he retreats into name-calling and petulant sulking when he doesn’t get his way, a personality trait that never has been even remotely charming and has now become tiresome and self-destructive.

It’s also becoming clear why he has never articulated a coherent philosophy of government — he doesn’t have one.

I’ve always thought that when the going got messy in Sacramento, Schwarzenegger would get bored – and get going. It seems increasingly likely that before his term was up, he will be back here in LA cutting a deal to return to moviemaking (even though he pledged he wouldn’t). First, however, we’ll see a new team of GOP image-makers brought in from DC. They’ll come up with a poll-tested new persona for Schwarzenegger to play – more Reagan and less Bush, I suspect. He’ll trot out his new governor-character via an interveiw with Barbara Walters or his pal Oprah.

But the thing about politics is, politicians develop a record, and his record as governor is as lousy as they come. He has managed to make Gray Davis look like, well, Ronald Reagan. Maybe if Arnold would spend less time acting like a governor and more time actually trying to solve any number of the crises we face, he might overcome his sophomore year slump. But if past record is the best indicator of future performance, I suspect we’re in for a whole lot more of the same old same old.

Schwarzenegger’s program is a shambles, his popularity is deteriorating, and he seems to be spending less time in the public eye. The state is deeper in debt than ever. The schools and the roads are crumbling at a faster pace. Far from being one of California’s “most transformative governors,” [as he was described by conservative columnist George Will], he’s well on his way to ending the term with scarcely any accomplishments at all.

No wonder that his wife recently appeared on “Oprah” to telegraph his reluctance to run for a second term. In the next gubernatorial term, all the problems that Schwarzenegger has failed to address in this one will come home to roost. He’d be insane to run again, and we’d be insane to reelect him: A Gov. Schwarzenegger even more bored and nettled by the mundane tasks of governing California than the one we currently have in office is a truly scary prospect.


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