California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger sat down with the L.A. Times last week to apologize for being a Republican. The once proud "Governator of the Golden State" cited "political inexperience" as his excuse for having espoused semiconservative ideals and principles during his first campaign and in the early years of his governorship.
The man who rode into the governor's mansion on a tsunami of dissatisfaction with former Governor Gray Davis and the budget crisis he wrought was sober in his reflection on the last few years in office. According to the Times, "he now regrets a number of the policies he championed in his early days in office and acknowledges his own rhetoric was at times overheated and naive."
The man who sold himself as the antidote to the woes brought on California by its political Establishment is showing once again that it's easier to go along than it is to stick to principle and to fight for change. He has accordingly dropped the conservative, change-centered, state-saving rhetoric and principles that inspired Californians to twice elect him to the state's highest office.
Four years ago, California was experiencing a near-unprecedented level of hardship. Under the watch of Democratic Governor Davis, the state was running an annual budget deficit of $14 billion, and conditions were rapidly worsening for California's businesses and citizens. Davis was pushing through bills granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants and mandating employer-provided health care, just to name two costly legislative atrocities.
As California was slipping into a single-state depression, a proverbial knight in high tech armor appeared to rescue the state. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republican, movie star, relative (by marriage) of the Kennedys, and potential curer of all ills facing the West's largest state, announced on "The Tonight Show" that he was ready to unseat the failed governor and to take over as his competent replacement. The crowd loved it.
SCHWARZENEGGER said many of the right things during the recall campaign to unseat and replace Davis, for which he is now apologizing. He called many state legislators "inept"; he railed against the "waste, fraud, and abuse" that swelled California's state budget and ballooned its deficit; and he called for repairing the Golden State's failing education system without spending ever more taxpayer money.
He promised to eliminate dozens of useless state boards and commissions and cut the funding of state programs and entitlements that had become "bloated and inefficient." "Never again," he promised, would the state of California face a $14 billion deficit, because he would not let the taxpayers' money be handled so irresponsibly.
That was four years ago. Now, facing a $14 billion annual budget deficit for which he is responsible, and with more bills coming due in the next few years than Sacramento will have incoming checks with which to pay them, Governor Schwarzenegger -- in a moment of sober honesty -- recanted the principles on which he ran and for which the citizens of California elected him in the first place.
"I have learned a lot of things where I felt one way before I went into office, and all of a sudden you learn things are not quite this way and you change," he told the Times. "People call it flip-flopping. I would rather flip-flop when I see something is a wrong idea than get stuck with it and stay with it and [keep making] the same mistake."
One of the biggest mistakes he now believes he made was to conclude that "waste, fraud and abuse" in government budgeting and spending was a bad enough thing to spend time trying to reform. "If you look at the $14.5 billion we need [to make up the budget deficit for this year alone], you don't even have to look there," he said. "You are not even going to find 1 percent there."
Another mistake was calling for the voters to replace Establishment lawmakers with principled outsiders of the variety that Schwarzenegger once fancied himself. "I despised the idea of these guys being so locked in and safe and all this in their positions, and staying up in Sacramento doing deals," he told the Times. He is now working to remedy this "mistake" by backing an initiative on the state's February ballot that would greatly ease term limit restrictions for state senators and representatives.
Those purposeless boards and commissions he wanted to cut from the state payroll? "People just love to hold on to those because it gives them a chance to appoint someone," he said. "Both parties came to me and said, 'You are out of your mind.' Like I was totally insane...I didn't want to stop all the other things I wanted to get done just because of this.
"There were a lot of things when you go in as an outsider that you learn you can't do," said this thoroughgoing insider.
LONG GONE ARE the days when this rebel actor-turned-politician mocked his opponents as "economic girly-men" rather than giving in to them. Instead, in the face of yet another impending fiscal disaster for the state whose voters hired him to prevent such things from happening again, Schwarzenegger has found new purpose. That this new politician bears no resemblance to the one voters actually elected is written off as so much nitpicking.
The Schwarzenegger California's voters thought they were getting would not have responded to looming economic disaster by choosing to "close 48 parks, release tens of thousands of inmates early and roll back or eliminate healthcare programs for the needy" instead of slashing the actual wasteful spending on departments and entitlements which have bloated California's budget to its current size.
The Schwarzenegger California's voters thought they were getting would not have continued to push a $14 billion "universal health care" bill -- built on tax increases and an assessment of crippling financial penalties on businesses large and small -- through the state legislature and onto the November ballot when the budget deficit being faced by his state was of an equally obscene amount.
And the Schwarzenegger California's voters thought they were getting would not have called a meeting with the editorial and reportorial staff of the Los Angeles Times for the purpose of apologizing for his misguided adherence -- however fleeting and ineffective -- to even semi-conservative principles.
It had seemed for some time that the man currently serving as Governor of California was not the man the citizens of the Golden State once thought they were putting into office. His actions during the last several months of his term should have made that clear enough.
But in case any doubt remained, last week's public renunciation of his former Neanderthal self, including requests for forgiveness from the state's liberal Establishment, should crush it utterly.
Schwarzenegger's loyalty is no longer to the people who so trustingly put him in office. His intention is no longer to abide by a single promise he made or stick to any principle he espoused.
Californians are experiencing the downside of going with a "glamour pick" for the state's highest office. He seemed too good to be true and, it turned out, was. Though Schwarzenegger's term will not expire for another two years, now is not too early for the people of California to start vetting gubernatorial hopefuls far more closely than they did the current one.
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