Sunday, May 08, 2005

Some Thoughts On Arnold

Since the "Governator" took his turn on the Sunday morning talk show circuit this morning with an appearance on "FOX News Sunday" (summarized and transcribed here at Sunday Morning Talk), I thought I would spend a few minutes on a post I've been meaning to do since I read Mark Barabak's article "Is Arnold Losing It?" in the most recent Washington Monthly.

Barabak's thesis is summed up well by this paragraph, near the beginning of the piece: "The glamour and novelty he brought to the drowsy state capital served him well throughout his first year in office. But in the second reel, much of the glitter has started flaking from California's movie-star governor, making him appear a good deal more like one of the standard-issue politicians he regularly vilifies." The author goes on to note that in recent months, talk of Schwarzenegger as a "transformative national figure" [a la Reagan, "a certain other actor-turned-California-governor"] in a centrist vein "has diminished considerably." Now, Barabak suggests, Schwarzenegger may be less likely to duplicate the Reagan model than that of Jesse Ventura, "another muscle-bound insurgent who won early acclaim as Minnesota governor, stumbled badly, then disappeared - from politics anyway - without a trace".

The case for the Ventura model, Barabak warns, can be made by examining the differences between Schwarzenegger's first year in office (characterized as "action, action, action,") and today's reality ("yielding ... shelving ... signaling"). Says Barabak, "more than anything, Schwarzenegger has suffered from the way in which he tried to challenge the entire power structure in Sacramento: frontally, all at once, with little preparation for the inevitable backlash." And then there are the contradictions - "after campaigning as the scourge of special interests and vowing to take money from no one, the governor has collected cash as a ravenous pace"; "he routinely assails Democratic lawmakers at the same time he insists he would prefer to work in a bipartisan fashion" - and so on.

Barabak suggests that Schwarzenegger may be able to defeat the Ventura repeat, noting that "he has shown a willingness to cut his losses before the political wounds fester." But still, the article quotes former Reagan strategist Stuart Spencer as saying, "[Schwarzenegger is] an aberration. He's not viewed as a Republican, he's viewed as a star and a personality. A lot of personalities have a short shelf life." This year, Barabak suggests, will be "the pivot point" for Arnold's governorship.

The best portions of the article are not those in which Barabak is outlining the process by which Arnold could become president or handicapping the chances of that happening (not good, and in my opinion, not a good idea anyway), but those in which he describes the ways in which Arnold has met with his greatest successes: "when he transcended politics and rose above partisanship", "maintaining his popularity with Republicans while shunning much of what the party stands for; bidding for the support of Democrats while antagonizing much of the party's core constituencies; creating a sense of urgency around issues about which most voters have never given much thought."

Near the end of the article, Barabak quotes a couple of Republican strategists who share my view that the centrist views articulated by Gov. Schwarzenegger are good for the GOP and for America. New Hampshire's Tom Rath: "If we want to get some blue states to turn red, we ought to take a lesson in what he's saying." California's Don Schnur: "To take the current Republican majority and lock it in long term, some of those [economically upscale, socially liberal] soccer parents are going to have to come back. And Schwarzenegger represents the sector of the party best equipped to speak to" them.

Unfortunately, Barabak's conclusion is pretty close to the truth: "Schwarzenegger would have to prove himself an extraordinarily effective leader to move the national GOP in his centrist direction. ... Experience shows there is a limit to the politics of personality. Unorthodox political philosophies tend to rise and fall with the fortunes of their messenger. Celebrity can only carry an insurgency so far. Just ask Jesse Ventura."

Schwarzenegger is hardly the last best hope of the moderate wing of the GOP, but as one of the most active proponents of centrism within the party at the moment, his voice cannot be discounted. Barabaks is right - celebrity can only take our movement so far - after a point, it's going to be up to us at the grassroots level to grow the centrist ranks of the Republican Party. If the Governator is still around to stand with us, all the better.


At 10:25 PM, Blogger bschneider5 said...

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At 11:13 PM, Blogger Crystal said...

you should check out the governor's race in texas. going to be really interesting. rick perry, the incumbent, may face sen. hutchison, or the 'tough grandma' carole strayhorn, though i think i may have heard she was going for leuitenant gov. there is also an independent candidate named kinky friedman. he is an artist, writer, he may be able to appeal to some groups.

anyways, with all of these candidates, the vote may just be split enough for a dem to win back texas. its just an interesting race to follow. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on it if you look into it.


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