Arnold Is a Power-Loving Phony

MAY 23, 2011

Last weekend I watched one of my favorite movies, “Total Recall,” a 1990 sci-fi flick based on a Philip K. Dick novel and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Is Schwarzenegger’s character an intergalactic double agent who saves the mutants on Mars from the evil plans of a nasty profiteer or is he a lowly construction worker who merely is enjoying a virtual vacation thanks to the implanted memories from a company named Rekall Inc.?

The movie’s brilliance comes from our not knowing even through the final scene whether this is real or a dream. Shortly after my latest viewing of it, the real Schwarzenegger was in the news for having fathered a child with a housekeeper who worked at the Schwarzenegger compound for 20 years. His wife, Maria Shriver, has left him, which is understandable given the level of betrayal, deception and poor judgment on the part of the former governor.

Throughout “Total Recall,” we wonder whether events are real or fake. That’s part of the fun in watching it again — looking for clues between the fight scenes and weird looks of the mutants. But Californians need to be honest with ourselves about Schwarzenegger. We all knew — or should have known — that he was a fake from the beginning. Republicans in particular should have realized that his commitment to free-market principles was never deep. Clues were everywhere.

The first time I met him was in 2002, when he visited the Register’s Editorial Board to pitch Proposition 49, which provided government funds for before- and after-school programs “providing tutoring, homework assistance and educational enrichment.” No real conservative would hatch such a plan. There’s nothing wrong with after-school tutoring, of course, but a conservative approach would seek to raise private funds to provide it.

Free-Market Arnold?

I heard Schwarzenegger several times, and he always gave his standard stump speech that quoted economist Milton Friedman, one of the stalwarts of the free-market movement. Here is Schwarzenegger in an introduction to a film about Friedman’s book, “Free To Choose”: “Being free to choose for me means being free to make your own decisions; free to live your own life; pursue your own goals; chase your own rainbow; without the government breathing down on your neck … . For me, that meant coming here to America. Because I came from a socialistic country in which the government controls the economy.”

He echoed those views but never lived up to them. As governor, he never tried very hard, either. He never challenged the nature or size of the state’s government. He mainly argued that the government needed to have enough money to afford all the wonderful programs it provided. Many of us were fine with his social liberalism, but he was never a fiscal conservative, either.

Schwarzenegger tried a few modest conservative reforms on the ballot in 2005, didn’t fight very hard for them, got beaten badly, then made an effortless shift from right to left. He basically apologized and spent the rest of his administration governing like a mainstream liberal. He wanted to be liked more than he wanted to fix the state. He undermined, rather than helped, free-market candidates for other offices.

Gov. Schwarzenegger betrayed the state, and yet we’re supposed to be surprised that he also betrayed his family? It wasn’t that long ago that Schwarzenegger was touted by California Republicans as the last hope to save the party and the state, but the Governator’s principles always were as malleable as his ethics. Remember, though, when Republicans were furious at the Los Angeles Times for printing a front-page story just before his 2003 election about allegations that he groped women? Now, many of the same people are tsk-tsking the former governor and relying on the Times’ latest revelations.

The penultimate scandal from Arnold was his commutation of the prison sentence for former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez’s son, Esteban, who stabbed a man (but didn’t kill him) at a party in San Diego while his fellow thug killed another young man during the same brawl. Schwarzenegger didn’t do this out of any apparent sense of justice — but out of loyalty to his friend. Schwarzenegger was always about power and influence. He championed himself as a friend of the People, but he always sided with big developers, big unions, big political players. Would a regular Joe have his son’s voluntary manslaughter sentence commuted? Of course not. That’s only for powerful friends.

America the Powerful

I recall once when he detailed why he loved America so much — because it is a powerful nation. That told me all I needed to know about Schwarzenegger. He loves power, not justice or freedom. He used political principles to advance his personal pursuit of power. After meeting with him at the Register in those heady days of the Gov. Gray Davis recall, I predicted that Schwarzenegger would leave a mark on the state, that he would be a major figure that epitomized the California Dream. I was so wrong.

But it’s not his fault. It’s our fault, as Californians. I voted for him out of fear that Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante would become governor. Where were my principles? But the blame goes deeper than votes for the latest charlatan.

California has the most natural advantages of any other state and is a magnet for intelligent, creative and entrepreneurial people from around the globe. Yet the state government’s policies are quashing these advantages. As U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Rocklin, the man who should have become governor during the recall election, would point out — it takes a lot to convince people that they have a better future in the Nevada desert than in beautiful California. But that’s exactly what has been going on because of our politicians’ addiction to spending, regulating and nannying.

Arnold has secured his legacy. But shame on us for waiting for some political savior to come along. It’s time for the People to roll up their sleeves and save our beloved state on our own. Our legacy is still ours to write.

— Steven Greenhut


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