Arnold Schwarzenegger, California's new governor, has won praise for his charm, personality and ability to utter words such as "bipartisanship," "for the people" and "I will not rest until...."
And that's fine for now. After five years of Gray Davis, who makes Mike Tyson look charming and personable, it's understandable that we would fall under the spell of anyone who can communicate like a human being and tell us what we want to hear.
Schwarzenegger's inaugural address was a good one. It was confident and lofty, a welcome departure from the stiff, nasally oratorical style of Davis and his predecessor, Pete Wilson. It certainly played on our hopes of a California that pumps out jobs faster than we can fill them, protects the natural world around us and meets the needs of all citizens-be they rich or poor, young or old, sick or healthy, black, white or any shade in between.
But delivering prefab speeches that talk of the "golden dream by the sea" is easy. Compared with driving a stake through the heart of partisan bickering and closing the gaping ideological divide between hard-line conservatives who want to cut taxes and hard-line liberals who want to enhance social-welfare programs, talking in flowery terms about what California should be is as easy as waking up in the morning.
And that says nothing of ending the rule of special interests in Sacramento, which is what the new governor has promised to do. Ha! Good luck.
After we're done holding hands, singing "Power to the People" and thinking we've been rescued by a benevolent knight in glistening muscles, let's remember that the guy we elected is no more qualified to lead a jumbo-sized government and one of the largest economies in the world than the guy who pours your beer at the corner bar or the woman who delivers your mail.
Let's recap Schwarzenegger's qualifications: ability to lift heavy weights; knack for delivering catchy phrases in action movies; skilled at turning vast wealth into a business; celebrity. During his campaign, he did little more than say Gray Davis was a bad governor, avoid newspaper reporters armed with simple questions about his platform and apologize for being a sexist pig who couldn't keep his piggy hands to his piggy self.
Oh yes, he also promised to erase the increase in the vehicle license fee and repeal the law signed by Davis that made it easier for undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses-because, of course, once we stop illegal immigrants from being able to legally drive their cars to work, the rest is smooth sailing.
Those last two items reveal that this business of ending "politics as usual" is empty rhetoric. If promising two things that you know can seal your election-while failing to offer anything of substance on how to solve the state's real problems-isn't politics as usual, we don't know what is.
But he had to fulfill the only hard promises he made, so the first thing he did-as advertised-was to sign an order decreasing the car tax. Great, now the $10 billion budget deficit is a $14 billion budget deficit. Since Schwarzenegger said he wouldn't raise taxes, and since we've already cut social programs to the bone, that's quite a dilemma. No problem, the new governor's people say, we'll just get the voters to pass a bond measure, ensuring that our problem gets passed into that Never Never Land called "the future." Plus interest.
Isn't that how the last governor and the previous two legislatures handled-or, didn't handle-this problem?
(Now we see the partisan uselessness of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association: When Democrats suggest bonds, the group goes apeshit; when Schwarzenegger does it, the group says it's just something that has to be done.)
All that said, we hope Schwarzenegger succeeds and we wish him lots of luck. Good luck with Democratic Senate leader John Burton, who says he won't take eyeglasses away from the elderly. Good luck with hard-line Republican Tom McClintock and his ilk, who'll pitch a major fit over the bond measure and will continue to throw themselves in front of any train carrying new taxes. Good luck with the teachers, the doctors, the lawyers, the prison guards and the Indian tribes, who are all more powerful than anything the Terminator has ever faced.
Best of luck, Mr. Governor-you'll need it.