Thursday, November 10, 2005

Wack Arnold's: Home of the Nothingburger

Over 33 Million Underserved

The good news is that Tuesday’s California Special Election is finally over. All the automated get-out-the-vote phone calls have mercifully stopped, although we did save our message from Ben Stein. “May I speak to the head of the household? May I speak to a Republican? A registered voter? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller. Bueller. Bueller!” [Seriously, Ben Stein did call us about Proposition 73, which would have mandated a waiting period and parental notification before termination of a minor’s pregnancy but lost.]

My husband Luis, a Toltec Indian from Mexico, became a naturalized citizen in January and this was his first election as a voter. As a conservative Republican in California, now he really understands how it feels to belong to a disaffected minority. His very first ballot looked more like a lottery ticket with a few lucky numbers but not enough to win the jackpot. With his usual élan, Luis accepted the results like a veteran Election Day loser, said “all righty then” and continued playing World of Warcraft.

State Republicans looked at all the repetitive TV ads, listened to the last minute blitz of GOTV calls, and sighed a collective yawn of stay-at-home apathy. “You call yourself a special election?” they harrumphed. “I’ve had way more special than you.” As was obvious Tuesday night, Arnold Schwarzenegger's politically diverse team failed him and his underwhelmed Republican base deserted him. The propositions he sponsored were conservative, but his campaign targeted moderates and took conservative votes for granted. Showing off Senator Tom McClintock as the token visible conservative is no substitute for conservative leadership at the top.

State Democrats are gleefully predicting the Governor's certain demise and who can blame them for taking their victory lap. They certainly paid for this outcome – or, rather, fronted the $100+ million to defeat Ahnuld’s slate of propositions. Public employee union members will be picking up the tab soon enough, though.

Proposition 75 would have required public employee unions to ask members’ permission to collect dues for political expenditures and watching its early lead evaporate was the first disappointment of the evening. Okay, that would have been very cool, but the existing federal law allows public employees to request in writing a refund of the political portion of their union fees. I voted and rooted for Prop. 75, but its failure and the failure of others endorsed by the Governator mean that nothing has changed for better or worse.

The second disappointment was Arnold’s concession speech in which, standing beside the wife who let it be known publicly that she never supported the Special Election, he thanked all those who opposed his ballot initiatives and promised to find common ground with those whom he was elected to vanquish. Sadly, he is small bark and no bite.

And thereby hangs Schwarzenegger’s tail. He promised to be the lion who would grab the entrenched establishment by the jugular, but he has governed like a lamb – and a part-time lamb at that. Normally, I would welcome less than full-time governance as a deterrent to overspending and overregulating. Unfortunately, the Sacramento machine runs practically 24/7 and an occasional watchdog is no protection at all. Plus, Arnold’s propositions were hardly compelling, hopelessly confusing and only half-heartedly defended by he who forced them upon the electorate. If he has lost ground and credibility, he can blame his own absence of leadership that doomed the unnecessary special election and cost him the conservative base.

Arnold has succumbed to the dreaded epidemic sweeping the GOP: elephantitis. That’s the disease that gives you mammoth ambitions until a hamster scurries nearby and scares you away [see Bush, George W.; Frist, Bill; Hastert, Dennis; et al]. The elephant is far larger and stronger than the little pest, but irrational fear renders him powerless. Those hamsters might be tiny, but have you noticed their disproportionately large accoutrements? They've got great big ‘uns, bigger than their brains. No steroid abuse for those Democrat hamsters. In politics as in bodybuilding, size matters.

I don’t think steroids are Arnold’s downfall. I suspect that Mrs. Governator is. How do you solve a problem like Maria, you might ask tunefully. I don’t think she is solvable.

My primary reservation when I supported Schwarzenegger and the 2003 recall election was the Clintonesque “buy one, get one free” deal – except that, with Arnold, you get the whole Kennedy-Shriver clan for free. Maria isn’t old enough to remember when the Kennedys were conservative. In her lifetime, her father was George McGovern’s 1972 running mate and her maternal relatives took a sharp turn leftward.

Special interests are Uncle Teddy’s core constituency - the very same special interests who run Sacramento, who were threatened by Schwarzenegger’s propositions and who mounted a winning offensive. The very same special interests who feel more empowered than ever after Tuesday's triumph.

During the 2004 election, when he still had momentum and so many Democrat incumbents were vulnerable, Arnold should have issued an ultimatum - work with me to reform the broken system or I will campaign against you in your home district. Clearly, with his mojo in a jar on Maria's nightstand, he was never going to play hardball with the Friends o' Ted. Instead of unloading his arsenal on them, he unloaded his problems onto the voters via the Special Election.

The preponderance of propositions in California is a symptom that the State Senate and Assembly are ineffective and out of touch - and now also a symptom that the Governor is ineffective and out of touch. Even prospective Democrat gubernatorial candidates Rob Reiner and Warren Beatty concede that ballot initiatives are not a substitute for good governance, although Reiner sheepishly admitted that he is still sponsoring one in 2006.

I voted no on Prop. 77, which would have transferred the authority to redistrict from the elected legislature to a panel of retired judges. I oppose term limits for the same reason. I firmly believe that voters should feel the consequences of their actions or inaction. If they elect lousy officials, they deserve lousy governance. Sometimes the consequences have to be really painful before there is a bottom-to-top correction, as evidenced by the 2003 revolt against Gray Davis.

Back then some Republicans counseled that the recall election would backfire on the California GOP – that the Davis disaster was a golden state opportunity to instruct the electorate why conservatism works better than liberalism. I admit they were right. In retrospect, I regret that I did not support Tom McClintock instead. Fairly or unfairly, more was expected of Arnold Schwarzenegger than of Gray Davis. More was promised. More of the same has been delivered, but this time the face of lousy governance is Republican.

For a world renowned action hero, Arnold's record has been more Clark Kentish than Supermanly. His concession speech heralded the era of conciliation and compromise, portending that re-election may be more important than fulfilling his original mission. If he moves even more to the left, election night 2006 will conclude as unsatisfactorily as 2005 did and with broader implications for all Republican candidates on next year's ballot.