Schwarzenegger’s Real Failure

Arnold Schwarzenegger succeeded a governor who had conducted his entire career getting his next job instead of doing the one he had. Especially following this wretched act, Schwarzenegger had one overriding duty to the voters, a duty he was particularly well-situated to discharge, partly because he didn’t need the job, either for fame or money or self-respect, and partly because Davis had so completely self-destructed that Arnold came into office with relatively few debts to factions or supporters.

What California needed Arnold to do was to speak some plain truths about the choices facing the state. These could have been framed in a number of ways, but the core message is,

“We can have a high-service government, with good schools, recreation, humane welfare, excellent environmental policies, and all the rest of it: we’re rich and lucky. But we can only have those things if we’re willing to pay the taxes that pay for them. We can also have a low-service government, and leave people to arrange their schooling and other services privately, with low taxes. Of course the rich will have a lot more success at this than the poor, in big houses on large lots with a swimming pool in back, but it’s a legitimate political choice.

“Those are the only two paths for us. There is no high-service, low-tax future for California, and I’m not going to promise you one. If you want a governor who will lie to you about having good schools, great universities, and up-to-date transportation with no heavy lifting by anyone, you can vote for him in the next election, but this administration is about treating each other like grownups and telling the truth. There is certainly waste and abuse in California; there always is. But there isn’t anything like enough to pay for what we used to enjoy with the taxes we pay now, even if we could completely stamp it out.”

Of course he said nothing of the kind, and will be remembered as a mountebank and a lightweight. I never viewed Schwarzenegger as a thinker or a person of vision, but his tough-guy persona offered some promise that he could resist the mutual seduction by which voters and elected officials tell each other that some accounting trick or magic administrative reform will make two equal four. Without inside information from Sacramento, I conjecture that his well-known fuzziness about the differences among parts he has played on screen, his ability to physically lift really heavy objects, and who he really is, put him in the grip of the crowd of acolytes and hangers-on to whom it matters a lot that their boss get re-elected, and who will always counsel that he play to the voters’ desperate desire to avoid real work.

Too bad. Why is it so hard to realize that there are a lot worse things to lose than your job? I wonder if Warren Beatty will do any better…

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.