Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Governor Schwarzenegger's Shrinking Vision

Like many other Democrats in 2003, I had become so disenchanted with the political process and machinery in California that I voted for the recall of Gray Davis, and for Arnold Schwarzenegger as his replacement. Davis' tenure as Governor had been notable for its striking absence of vision, humor, as well as any demonstrated ability to react quickly to crises, economic or otherwise, that arose on his watch. Davis was utterly incapable of leading the state, utterly incapable of leading his party, and utterly incapable of working with the Legislature to craft anything resembling a bipartisan plan that would move the state forward while solving its structural fiscal problems. While well-meaning and a hard worker, his departure was no great loss for the state.

Naively, I thought that Schwarzenegger represented the last best hope to untangle the myriad issues facing California. Upon his election, he was vested with an enormous amount of political capital, and was quite likely the most popular politician in the history of the state.

Nearly five years later, it is no longer too early to speculate that Schwarzenegger stands on the precipice of a failure that will dwarf even that of Gray Davis. He has squandered much, if not all, of his political capital. He no longer thinks in big, dynamic terms of change for the state. Instead, he sounds much, if not exactly like the narrow-minded demagogues who currently occupy the state leadership of his party. Sure, he talks a good game - using phrases in his annual State of the State address like "acting boldly," having the gall to invoke the name of FDR and his visionary works, while having literally nothing to offer in return outside of platitudes and initiatives based on the advice of small-thinking advisers who are either unwilling or unable to recognize their own role in having created the mess that California's political process has become.

In the end, it was an empty speech. It was a speech that could just as well have been delivered by Gray Davis. And it extinguished, once and for all, the flicker of hope that Arnold Schwarzenegger represented. I'd like to think that it's not too late for him to recognize the error of his ways, but that would be beyond naive.

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