Schwarzenegger still in marketing mode, selling myths

Jan. 6, 2013

By Chris Reed

jolly_green_giantOne of the staples of modern journalism is the piece in which a famous figure is asked to expound on his favorite books or music. With music, answers often seem genuinely enthusiastic. With books, however, the answers inevitably are designed to reflect well on the speaker.

A classic and pathetically revealing example of this – one that should give discerning Californians a good chortle – appeared in The New York Times book review section last Sunday. The Times asked Arnold Schwarzenegger, among other things, which fictional character he most wished he could portray on the big screen. Arnold’s response:

One of my favorite characters in history is Cincinnatus, and I’ve read everything I can find about him. I would love to play him in a film about ancient Rome. He was given the keys to the kingdom — pure, absolute power! — and he did the job and then went back to his farm. He didn’t get drunk on the power. He did the job he was asked to do, dealt with the invasion and walked away. That is the purest form of public service I can imagine, and it would be fun to try to capture that character on film. 

Groan. Plainly, Arnold is suggesting that his political odyssey was the modern version of Cincinnatus’ journey — the noble leader who saves the day and then goes back to the “farm.”

The reformer is defeated — and gives up

From taking office in 2003 until the November 2005 special election, in which his package of reforms was rejected by state voters influenced by a gigantic CTA-funded ad campaign, Arnold was the real deal. But afterwards, his overwhelming focus was on crafting the narrative about his public service for the history books for after he went back to acting. His emphasis was on marketing. He lost his appetite for taking on union hegemony.

And so in 2006, first he crafted the “postpartisan” narrative that held that he alone had divined how to govern a bitterly divided state government — manure eagerly spread by the national media, which failed to notice that a revenue surge made it easy to craft a 2006 state budget and that it was by compromising (giving in) on four Democratic initiatives that Arnold won some biggest headlines.

Next Arnold appropriated one of those initiatives as his own: AB 32, which forced a shift to cleaner but costlier energy to reduce the emissions which contribute to global warming. The Arnold who initially fought for an escape hatch in AB 32 in case it harmed the economy by adding unique energy costs not borne by rival states and nations turned into the sort of raving green who likes to pretend that making energy cost more is a miracle job-creation tool. His administration would occasionally give signs it knew this was manure. But the California media, at its all-time worst, for the most part collectively bought the bizarre idea that adding unique costs to California’s private sector was inherently pro-business.

Arnold wanted to be Al Gore 2, a Global Green Giant revered by enviros around the world. It worked.

The crusade for Schwarzeneggercare

But what’s been largely forgotten is that Arnold also set out to burnish his reputation by introducing his version of Obamacare, a 14-month crusade that began after his November 2006 re-election. Arnold’s version had the same immense basic flaw as Obama’s: It created a disincentive for businesses to provide health insurance to their employees because it was much cheaper to pay a fine to the state and have the state provide the coverage.

But Arnold didn’t care. He was playing for the history books. He was a healthcare visionary, too, not just a green one. The Assembly passed a revised version of his plan. Thankfully, in January 2008, a California Senate committee killed it because of its heavy cost. (No one has ever looked at this angle, but the defeat sure looked like a CTA hit; can’t have another big mouth to feed in Sacramento, you see!)

When Barack Obama got elected and pursued his very similar agenda, we saw the reverse. The greens made little headway with cap-and-trade/renewable energy mandates because Democratic lawmakers in inland states figured out what California media geniuses could not: that it was risky to saddle our economy with unique costs not borne by our rivals. But the health reformers/big government enthusiasts got their way and Obamacare was enacted.

So in California, we have the worst of all possible worlds: a coming huge unique spike in energy costs and a coming transition to Obamacare in the state that has the nation’s oldest family-care practitioners. Rationed care, here we come.

But none of this matters to Arnold. Ever since early on the evening of Nov. 8, 2005, when initial results showed his anti-union ballot initiatives headed for defeat, his focus as governor was primarily on securing a seemingly lofty place in history — or at least the shallow version offered by our media.

He won. We lost.


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  1. jimmydeeoc
    jimmydeeoc 6 January, 2013, 19:26

    Groan and double-groan…….

    True, Cincinnatus was an admirable (and rare) public figure.

    But Governor Clown-hair in the role? (an apt moniker if there every was one)

    I can think of no one LESS convincing to play the Roman statesman.

    Former governors and presidents usually age well – our recollection of them improves with the passage of time. Arnold is like a bucket of rotting fish.

    Reply this comment
  2. jimmydeeoc
    jimmydeeoc 6 January, 2013, 22:01

    BTW – Maybe you, Katy, or John can help me with this one:

    Who is Daniel Weintraub? He sends up weekly stories to the OC Register and claims to have “decades” of experience as a Sacramento hand. Now runs something called, which to me looks like another bland NGO whose only purpose for existence is to siphon endowment funding.

    Here’s the title and link to his latest: “Weintraub: State’s outlook is bright but could cloud up” It’s perhaps the puffiest puff-piece I’ve ever read.

    Is this a man to be taken seriously? Virgil “the Turk” Sollozzo was “a man to be taken seriously”. Not so sure about Weintraub.

    Reply this comment
  3. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 6 January, 2013, 23:19

    I agree totally with this article, Clown HAIR got spanked in 05 and never received, stuck his tail between his legs and ran for the hills.

    Pardoning his boyfriends son his last day in office was the final straw.

    Reply this comment
  4. SeeSaw
    SeeSaw 7 January, 2013, 09:11

    Shortening a prison sentence and pardoning are not synonymous, Rex.

    Reply this comment
  5. That's Entertainment!
    That's Entertainment! 7 January, 2013, 11:56

    There are few politicians willing to have their reputations destroyed by sticking to unpopular principles and risking an ignominious election defeat. Arnold was re-elected handily in 2006. He leaves politics with an undefeated record, thus leaving to history a record of popularity. It was all about him.

    Reply this comment
  6. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 7 January, 2013, 14:36

    Clown Hair “commuted” the sentence, which is technically different but the same result seesaw;

    “In his final night before leaving office, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted the prison sentence of the son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez who had pleaded guilty to taking part in the slaying of a college student.”

    Reply this comment

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