Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn’t had much trouble since becoming
governor. Times are good for any politician with popularity and job
approval ratings that still top 60 percent.
But whenever problems arose for Schwarzenegger during his first
full year in Sacramento, they could be traced to one source: his
Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn’t had much trouble since becoming governor. Times are good for any politician with popularity and job approval ratings that still top 60 percent.
But whenever problems arose for Schwarzenegger during his first full year in Sacramento, they could be traced to one source: his mouth.
Loose lips have certainly not sunk the Schwarzenegger political ship, but they have caused him to be labeled a hypocrite and a braggart who can’t always back up his boasts. His words and little else also have prevented him from achieving the rapport he claims to seek with the Democrats who control the Legislature.
Schwarzenegger’s most famous gratuitous remarks came last summer and fall, when he first called Democrats who resisted some of his wishes “girlie men” and then labeled them “losers.”
The only problem was that those “girlie men” made muscleman Schwarzenegger into an electoral loser, even though he pronounced himself “in heaven” the morning after the fall election. Not only did he fail to oust even one lawmaker he sought to get rid of in that vote, but his candidates couldn’t so much as manage a win in any open district where sitting lawmakers had to leave because of term limits.
So there was a hollow ring and a bit of a boomerang effect when Schwarzenegger called the majority Democrats a bunch of losers. Earlier, he had promised to inflict “massive casualties” on Democrats who voted against anything he wanted. Fact is, his could not. Their people won. There were no casualties, except to the credibility of Schwarzenegger’s threats. That’s one reason top Democrats like state Attorney General Bill Lockyer, Treasurer Phil Angelides and Controller Steve Westly weren’t exactly quaking when Schwarzenegger called them the “Three Stooges” for opposing his planned budget.
What’s more, even some Republicans detested the tone of his insults. “The public hates name-calling and so do I,” wrote Bill Leonard, a longtime former GOP legislator now on the state Board of Equalization. “I was once called one of the Three Stooges by a Republican disgruntled with my support for George W. Bush, then the governor of Texas. (It) quickly became a badge of honor.”
Other careless words from the governor also have returned to haunt him. He didn’t have to pledge while a candidate in the 2003 recall election that he’d never take a penny in campaign donations from anyone because he’s so wealthy. But he did, and when he accepted more than $26 million in donations from corporations and individuals in just his first year in office, he looked flat-out two-faced. No matter how he sugar-coated it by saying no money could ever buy favors from him, his promise was exposed as false.
He didn’t have to promise while a candidate that he could solve the state’s chronic budget mess by simply eliminating waste in government, but he did. Then he couldn’t find a single example of waste, relying instead on $15 billion in bonds and a bunch of gimmicks to balance last year’s budget. Whatever happens to this year’s budget, the deficit problem again will not be solved by fingering waste.
That’s because one person’s waste is another’s crucial program. Schwarzenegger learned this last year when he tried to cut out funding for in-home caretakers for the ill and the frail elderly. He quickly rescinded that cut when thousands of protests arose.
Then there was the Schwarzenegger promise never to collect campaign cash during the state’s budget-writing process. Another commitment not kept.
And there’s the contrast between his claimed immunity from the influence of his big donors and his actions in promoting, signing or vetoing legislation. From cell phone regulation to the possibility of helping Californians get cheap drugs from Canadian pharmacies, Schwarzenegger has acted strictly according to the wishes of his financial supporters.
Not to forget his October barb at casino Indian tribes. “The Indians are ripping us off,” Schwarzenegger said. Does anyone wonder why most tribes show no eagerness to negotiate with him over increasing both their slot machine count and the taxes they pay the state?
The common thread in most of these examples has been the contrast between reality and off-the-cuff bravado from Schwarzenegger. In all cases where his words either were unwise or conflicted with his actions, they came in informal settings ranging from on-the-run press conferences to short-notice campaign rallies where wild applause from fans moved the former movie star to what some might call irrational exuberance.
Schwarzenegger is plainly a quick study and fast on his feet. But he’s also capable of getting carried away and promising far more than he can deliver, perhaps losing touch momentarily with reality. If he wants to avoid real trouble in the future and keep those popularity ratings at today’s high levels, he’ll have to learn one lesson:
Be sure your brain is fully engaged before putting your mouth into gear.