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Schwarzenegger, Obama, and Cah-lee-foe-nee-ah

gqmartinez's picture

Via Krugman comes this sad tale of the state of California economics. It's bad, and some of us have been talking about how Schwarzenegger's charismatic way of selling shit to willing consumers was dangerous to the future of the state.

In my former life, I blogged a lot about Schwarzenegger and California. (Nah, I'm not gonna go into the details with self-serving links.) Here's one thing that makes CA a effed up state. Budgets require a super majority to pass rather than simply a 50%+1. Essentially, it's like needing a filibuster proof majority in the US Senate. This allowed the GOP to screw over Gray Davis and make way for the original post-partisan, charismatic actor Arnold Schwarzenegger (who, in fact, was partisan except his 2006 reelection year). I encourage folks to learn a bit more about the state of California politics circa 2002-2003 (that's about the time I got fully immersed in politics) and to examine Schwarzenegger's ascendancy and compare it to Obama's, and to compare the "leadership" of the two as well.

I won't go into details about this, but will provide a brief background and the lessons I learned.

I was a staunch opponent of the recall because it was a flagrant abuse of the system and, in large part, a media driven circus, complete with porn star candidates. It was, also, a triumph for post-partisan rhetoric as a governing strategy rather than strict ideology. (To his credit, Schwarzenegger had a more rigid ideological framework than I see from Obama). Once in office, Schwarzenegger immediately pursued and championed a series of ballot initiatives (the 2004 primary contained55, 56, 57, 58). For those who remember, these were largely sold as a way to save the CA economy, which was supposedly on the precipice of disaster, mostly because of that dastardly Gray Davis and that evil correction officers union, but that's another story.

I was in the minority in opposing some of those initiatives, primarily Prop 57, which was a huge bond measure. Remember, states can't operate in the red like the feds so they have to use creative accounting techniques. Now, being the liberal that I am (even if at the time I would say "moderate") I'm not opposed to borrowing money to give the economy a boost. Prop 57 was sold as a way to do that (by none other than Obama booster and Dem. Gov candidate Steve Westly). The problem I had with prop 57 as well as others (notably Dem Gov. candidate Phil Angelides) was that it was hastily thrown together and really didn't address the massive long-term structural deficiencies faced by the state. Lo and behold, us naysayers proved to be correct.

The point of this exercise is not to pimp my foresight. Admittedly, I'm not economist. But when there are concerns over half-ass measures, I think those concerns should be vigorously discussed and using only rosy aspects can lead to future problems. If you visit Krugman regularly, you'll note that he and others find that the current stimulus bill seems to fall short of filling the shortfall. I won't link to individual articles because his blog is full of many good discussions on that particular issue and you should read the entirety, not just what I think is good.

While some are trying to paint the rosiest scenarios, I'm less inclined to accept as permanent solutions policies which fall short of addressing the entire problem. That the entire nature of the stimulus bill is so damn reminiscent of the situation in California circa 2003 makes me even more skeptical. The media and the post-partisans were getting all David Sirota like (e.g. creaming their pants) at the thought of Schwarzenegger's awesomeness that they failed to be as critical as they should have. We should not fall into the same trap this time since the stakes are even higher. Unfortunately, I think we may have already fallen into that trap.

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scoutt's picture
Submitted by scoutt on

by Enron I thought. No?
Planned and celebrated.
Interesting thought experiment turning The Terminator into The Messiah's political Doppelgänger.
I'm gonna stew on that in the bubble bath.

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

Enron played a part, but so did other factors. The budget battles were also a contributing factor: Davis the Sacramento politician was so partisan that he couldn't handle the budget process. If you know the truth about CA budgets you'd understand the absurdity of that. In CA the GOP delegation at every level is amongst the most conservative in the country and a mere 34 percent could thwart any budget, and they did so. Budgets were always late and even though Schwazenegger typically passed budgets late, it was used to pound Davis and his silly partisanship.

Another tool used agaisnt Davis was his supposed closeness to unions. The prison officers were turned into public enemy number one, as were other traditionally Democratic unions (teachers, etc.). Schwarzenegger, much like Reagan rode in on a union busting message, DFHs

Davis, much like the Clintons was despised by the right and left. Some of the criticism earned, much of it not, IMO. On fundamental issues like the justness of the recall (including the budget process) and the union attacks, much of the left was silent. The silent left, IMO, led to Schwarzenegger's big union busting effort of 2005s. He almost succeded, but the Dem establishment and the Left finally. After his humiliating defeat in 2005, Schwarzenegger veered dramatically left. The cynic in me leans more toward reelection concerns than lessons learned.

Davis's undoing was a combination of factors--Enron manipulation, budgetary politics, union scapegoating, the desire to destroy a potential Democratic presidential candidate with a decent shot--helped by a left unwilling to stick up for core Democratic principles. That does not mean uncritical support of Davis, but at least on dealing with the truthiness WRT unions and the budget process.

Ultimately, the dog and pony show that is the Schwarzenegger tenure as Governor is leading to a precarious situation for the state. His flexible ideological base and desire to be liked by all resulted in Bush-like excesses and problems. CA got what they purchased by chosing an untested and ideologically ungrounded candidate who wants to be liked. That's a contributing factor to my skepticism toward Obama. A well intentioned, articulate "fool" is not necessarily going to lead to a better outcome than an ill intentioned one.

Submitted by lambert on

.... An untested and ideologically ungrounded candidate who wants to be liked. ... A well intentioned, articulate "fool" is not necessarily going to lead to a better outcome than an ill intentioned one...

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

I recently said I'm low on patience these days. Its leading to a more acidic tone which may not be the best.

I think Obama may be maleable in a way Bush wasn't. But making kissy faces at everything Obama does and painting only the rosiest of pictures is no way to influence Obama. Quite the opposite.

Submitted by lambert on

The "ouch" doesn't come from me; I'm attributing it to les autres... .

Mandos's picture
Submitted by Mandos on

But does making yourself seem completely unappeasable on any measure available under current conditions actually put you in a position to put pressure? Or does it make it seem like you want the moon*?

It's a strategic and tactical question that needs answering.

*By "moon", I mean something completely reasonable in a sane world, but unattainable given existing processes.

scoutt's picture
Submitted by scoutt on

I live in san francisco and we're trained to dislike Schwarzenegger. After he lost 4-0 against the girly men with those props, his tone changed drastically. He even apologized for not understanding what the "people" wanted. I think most of us are in california are completely confused about who is a fault for what. more gin..

Damon's picture
Submitted by Damon on


From the link you provided, it appears that prop 57 wasn't even being sold as an economic stimulus rather simply borrowing to plug a budget hole. Well, damn, if that's the case, I'd have been skeptical, too.

BTW, thanks for giving your view on the fall of Gray Davis. I'd always wondered how the governor of the largest state in the union, devoid of any real scandal, could fall so easily. If recalls are to be allowed, at all, I'd only allow it in extreme cases (i.e. criminal acts). To use recalls for political reasons or just because you happen to disagree with the politics of a leader I think is an abuse of the tool.

Lastly, California politics, unfortunately, is an excellent argument against referenda/initiative. I've seen recalls and initiatives abused so many times that it makes me seriously question rather I support the historical progressive movement that brought about these changes. And, from what I understand, it's incredibly easy to start recalls and such in California.

In my opinion, we already have recall elections; they are called re-elections.