Arnold wanted to be loved

Steven Greenhut: Looking at the latest Field Poll, which shows that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s approval ratings are at Gray Davis levels (22 percent), I’m reminded of Jon Lovitz’s Saturday Night Live line, when he whines, “I just want to be loved, is that so wrong?”

Gov. Schwarzenegger came into office promising serious reform to a state on the financial brink. He ran into tough union opposition and got beaten up in the 2005 election as his entire slate of initiatives was defeated. Instead of regrouping and fighting again on another front or in another way, he basically gave up and tried to win the approval and affection of Californians by avoiding the tough fights. That’s when I realized that his main goal was to be loved, not to reform the state. How many times has Schwarzenegger come up with a good idea (i.e., pension reform), then backed down when opposition forms? He just doesn’t have the stomach to take on fights that will earn him opprobrium, which isn’t surprising given his background in popularity-seeking Hollywood. Yet despite his desire to be liked, he has a 70 percent disapproval rating.

Granted, California’s voters are notoriously fickle and annoying. They want someone to save them from financial ruin, but they don’t want anyone cutting programs and they keep electing the same tired crop of liberal legislators (and a lot of big-government conservatives, also) who fight reform. You gotta sympathize with the governor to an extent, but I’m left wishing that he went into his political career with a firm sense of principle and a determination to do what’s right, regardless of what the public thinks. If you lose, so be it. At least you tried. Instead we got a bipolar administration that has swung wildly from left to right, a potpourri of advisers who are all over the map and at odds with each other on key issues, and a governor who, ultimately, craves popularity.

Let this be a lesson to future governors: You are not going to be popular at the end of your term any way, so you might as well do the right things, help reform a dysfunctional state and build a legacy — albeit one that will probably not be recognized until long after you depart this Earth. Trying to be loved is indeed the wrong priority. In the case of governing, it’s better to earn respect than love.

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