Getting ugly

I’d always assumed that the “Nazi” cracks about Schwarzenegger had to do with his accent and his family history, which shouldn’t be held against anyone. Wrong!

Most of the voters in California won’t follow the details about how Aaaaanold played footsie with Kurt Waldheim (apparently part of his motivation was to stay politically viable in Austria in case he wanted to run for President there rather than Governor here). Still, a poster showing him dressed as an SS officer (not hard to PhotoShop) with the legend “We’ll be back” should communicate the message well enough.

I’m not at all unhappy about this, because I was very unhappy when Garamendi joined Bustamente in the race and Issa dropped out, thus apparently handing it to the Terminator on a platter.

It’s true that Schwarzenegger is a “moderate” among Republicans: i.e., not a lunatic like Simon. But “moderates” can have lousy public morals and bad ideas, too.

Schwarzenegger’s one serious foray into politics to date was his promotion of Proposition 49, which set aside a big chunk of revenue — money that even then it was clear the state didn’t have to spare — for a set of unproven “after-school” programs with a Rube Goldberg administrative setup to run them.

I find it easy to believe that there are things to do with kids after school that would have benefits in excess of their costs. Whether they will actually get done under Prop. 49 is a different question, though they might. It’s even (barely) conceivable that the program will have the 9-to-1 benefit-to-cost ratio Schwarzenegger had some tame think tank estimate for him.

But that’s not the same as saying that the program will “save taxpayers money,” as the official website for the proposition (*) claimed it would. The money spent on that program will either have to come out of other programs or it will have to come out of new taxes, and the proponents carefully designed the proposition without a funding mechanism other than a share in the growth of the state’s revenue base, thus winning the support of all the usual right-wing anti-tax groups. (Of course, growing revenue doesn’t mean slack in the budget, given rising prices and population growth, but that point was carefully concealed from the voters.)

And of course Aaaanold and his friends refused to say what they proposed to cut to pay for their new goodie: they pretended they wouldn’t have to cut anything, as if tax revenue rained down from heaven.

It was fairly obvious from the word “go” that the proposition was mostly about self-promotion. The website, for example, is joinarnold.com.

I saw Schwarzenegger on TV election night. When the reporter paused in her swooning over him to ask a fairly pointed question about why the people should vote for the proposition in the face of complete uncertainty about whether it would work and whether the state could afford it fiscally, he gave her a nasty look and said, “We’ve had enough reports. It’s time to stop studying the problem and do something.”

The thought of putting this cynical, arrogant clown in charge of closing the state’s budget gap would make me laugh, if I didn’t have to live here.

So I hope the press and his opponents play mean, with the Nazi stuff and the rough-play-on-the-casting-couch stuff, and I hope enough of it sticks to keep him out of the Governorship.

Update Kevin Moore disagrees (*):

Arnold is not a Nazi. He’s a moderate Republican with marital ties to the Kennedy clan. So no Nazi threat. His failure to disavow Waldheim is very much in tune with Austrian sentiment, a mixture of shame and defensiveness thicker than Arnold’s accent. His own dad was a Nazi, which Arnold has already publicly cited as a source of shame.

All of that is true, but I think it misses what I see as the issue here: the character — the political, as opposed to the private, character — of the man who wants to start his political career as Governor of California.

I can have compassion for Schwarzenegger’s family situation, but I don’t see any reason to extend that compassion to his calculated decision to support a candidate for President of Austria who was demonstrably a war criminal, with personal responsibility for a major massacre. For Aaaaaahnold to say that he’s ashamed of his father’s Nazi past, while, in his own present, helping a Nazi war criminal retain high office, seems to me even more shamelessly hypocritical than the norm for office-seekers.

No, I don’t think that Schwarzenegger would pursue Nazi-like policies as governor. That’s not the point. Given a moral choice to make on a major matter, he chose personal ties and personal ambition over principle. That’s a legitimate issue, not a mudball.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com