Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Arnie's right turn: wrong

Yesterday's elections may or may not prove to be the indicators of Democratic ascension that the most hopeful among us may wish them to be.

The governorships of New Jersey and Virginia merely stayed in Democratic hands, and its no news that they hate gays in Texas, and don't in Maine.

To my mind, though, the slate of Schwarzenegger backed propositions resoundingly defeated should serve as a wake up call to moderate Republicans, as well as anyone that thinks business as usual is good enough.

Wapo columnist and SoCal native Harold Meyerson has the call:

LOS ANGELES -- Arnold Schwarzenegger's nine mad months of governing Democratic California as a partisan Republican came to the most predictable of unhappy endings here on Tuesday. Each of the four ballot measures he inflicted on voters in his special election lost decisively -- his spending-limit proposal tanking by 24 percent, and his measure to curb the clout of public-sector unions (Proposition 75) by 7 percent. The mystery of this election is what on earth Schwarzenegger could have been thinking: No comparable elected official in recent memory has picked a fight so gratuitously and come out of it so beat up.

Back in January Schwarzenegger's approval rating stood at 62 percent in the Public Policy Institute of California's poll. Then, in short order, he called for axing the pensions of the state's public employees, which would have eliminated the survivor benefits for widows and orphans of police officers and firefighters. He tried to stall the implementation of a law mandating a nurse-to-patient ratio in hospitals and attacked the nurses' union as a special interest. He reneged on a commitment to restore funding for the state's schools. He went after the public employees unions by backing Proposition 75. And the sky fell on him.

California's unions produced a torrent of advertising that featured cops, nurses, teachers and firefighters condemning the governor. They revved up the most effective Democratic voter mobilization operation in the nation. When they were done, not only did the governor's propositions fail but his approval rating in the most recent PPIC poll collapsed to a Bushian 35 percent.

"Arnold's mistake was to try to leverage his popularity to advance the Republican platform, which doesn't have much support in California," the state's Democratic Assembly speaker, Fabian Nez, remarked a few days before the vote. "The Republicans see him as a vehicle to move their agenda, and he's done that rather than try to enlarge their agenda."

My belief is that all the national recognition Arnold received during the 2004 election cycle, coupled with a megastar/politician's ego served only to betray him.

From his primetime speech at the GOP convention to his last minute pro-Bush campaign stop in Ohio, to all those rumblings about amending the constitution to allow a foreign-born citizen from, say, Austria for example, to run for president, the GOP spinmeisters were putting Arnold out there as the popular, moderate face of a party whose core beliefs make them neither.

Arnold fell into the novice politician's trap, he began to believe his own party's propaganda,

And so it was, that after a year of successful moderation, a year of reaching across the aisle to alleviate California's budget crisis and shore up its sinking disability insurance system, the Governator began harboring national ambitions.

When that happens in the modern GOP (a truly oxymoronic phrasing indeed) a moderate must turn hard right.

And so Arnold started calling Democratic legislators "girly-men", and threatened to kick nurses' butts (a truly tin-eared thing for the "Gropinator" to say).

As it turns out though, even Arnold's legendary personal charm was not sufficient to overcome the despicable nature of his right-wing agenda, not with the moderate Californians who were largely responsible for his election.

Thus Arnold represents the dilemma currently facing any moderate Republican who would seek a national leadership position: by appeasing the party's wingnut base they will alienate the moderate masses who remain the key to longterm electoral strength in this country.

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