I’m with Mark on this (not necessarily on the recall tactic) and I think Jon is quite wrong about Schwarzenegger. He’s been a profound failure at the main thing he needed to do, and no better than mediocre at the second. He may be cunning, but he’s not courageous and not even very smart, as far as I can tall.
Schwarzenegger displaced a governor who richly deserved his oblivion, because he carried on an entire career in public service doing each job as though its only purpose was to get the next one, a gerbil on a careerist treadmill. Gray Davis was nothing if he wasn’t this or that public official, and probably knew it, but Schwarzenegger doesn’t need his current job. He has money and another good job whenever he wants it. This freedom is a priceless resource for a pol, and Schwarzenegger had a duty from the day his campaign opened (well, certainly from inauguration day) to say, again and again, what two generations of California leadership have conspired with an infantilized public to deny:
My fellow citizens, I entered politics to serve the values of the California electorate, and the truth. I can’t do the first until I do the second, and the truth we have to respect is that there are two and only two ways to run a state. We can have a government with minimal services and low taxes, or we can have a government with excellent and ample services (as we did in the fifties, sixties, and seventies) and the taxes needed to pay for them. What is not available to us is a low-tax, high-service state, and anyone who promises you that is a mountebank and a scoundrel. I will never promise lower taxes unless I also tell you what services we should forgo, nor propose new programs without recognizing what they will cost. But more important, I will never campaign against taxes in general, because when they buy good services we want, they are not “too high”; indeed, when the state can buy a lot of value for citizens for a really good price, it has a duty to seize that bargain.
A politician’s first duty is not to get reelected. Actually, it’s to realize that there are a lot worse things to lose than one’s job, and Schwarzenegger, lacking that realization, has lost those things. Instead, he violated the principles in the last two sentences of my imagined speech again and again, enabling the deeply dysfunctional instinct of voters to believe in Santa Claus instead of providing real leadership, and repeatedly concealing the facts with budgetary smoke and mirrors. And he has been nothing short of craven in the face of his own party’s declared policy of paralyzing the financial operation of the state in the legislature by enforcing an iron “no-tax” discipline on members. Shame on him. The summary judgment on his governorship is that he didn’t do the one big thing he was especially well situated to do, and advanced the decline of the common weal thereby.
He has been on the right side of some specific issues, including the environment, though mostly by running a little behind the curve and occasionally saying ” me, too!”. “Greener and quicker to catch on to global warming than George Bush” is quite the tepid encomium. But he has, equally importantly, cut the ground out from under the state’s attempts to reduce carbon emissions from vehicles by proposing to cut mass transit funding, an idea as wrong-headed as regards the well-being of the planet as it is economically ignorant. When people want to use their cars less, what does he think they should do to get around?
A better governor than some really bad governors; that’s about the best one can say about Arnold. Too bad.